Preckwinkle had been an occasional critic of former Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley. In her first four terms in office as alderman, she emerged as the council's prominent defender of affordable housing. Among other issues, she is known for championing the controversial sweetened beverage tax, sponsorship of living wage ordinances, concerns about the costs and benefits of the city's Olympic bid, and her strong stance against police brutality and excessive force.
Preckwinkle was born in St. Paul, Minnesota, and attended local schools there. She moved to Chicago to study at the University of Chicago in the Hyde Park community area, where she earned her bachelor's and master's degrees.
From 1969 to 2013, she was married to Zeus Preckwinkle, then a seventh- and eighth-grade teacher at Ancona Montessori School. They have two children. Her former husband is Caucasian, which at times was used by her political opponents as a campaign issue.
In 1985 and 1986 Preckwinkle served as President of the Disabled Adult Residential Enterprises (DARE). She has been active in community organizations, serving as a member of the Board of Directors of the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence, and Political Action Director of the Near South Chapter of the Independent Voters of Illinois (IVI-IPO). During and after her 1987 aldermanic election campaign, she worked as a planner for the Chicago Department of Economic Development.