By Erick Johnson, Chicago Crusader
Cook County Commissioner Richard Boykin (1st) will not run for Cook County Board president, the Crusader learned one day before Boykin was set to hold a press conference to announce his political ambitions for next year’s Democratic primary.
With anger still boiling from the controversial soda tax, speculation swirled for months that Boykin would run against incumbent president, Toni Preckwinkle, in a campaign that would have been an intense battle for the Black vote.
Instead, Boykin decided to run for re-election as 1st District commissioner, saying he would continue to fight gun violence, unemployment and poverty in his district. His decision was learned by the Crusader by press time on Wednesday, Sept. 27.
“Too many of the residents of the 1st District have been struggling for too many years with unemployment and economic devastation,” Boykin said. “Too many residents of the 1st District have been gunned down; casualties in the raging epidemic of gun violence that is devastating too many neighborhoods throughout Chicago and Cook County.
“This is a course of action that I seriously considered. I have deep concerns about the policies of the current administration, and I have a deep commitment to the struggling communities throughout the County.”
Boykin will kick off his re-election campaign with a petition drive at 11 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 30 at his new campaign office, 228 Madison St. in Oak Park.
The news may be a relief to Preckwinkle, a two-term county board president, who announced her bid in June to run for a third term in the Democratic primary in March 2018.
With her clout and influence in boosting the careers of Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx and State Representative, now candidate for lieutenant governor, Juliana Stratton, Preckwinkle’s political future appeared bright until last October when she spearheaded a campaign to implement a penny-per-ounce tax on all sugary drinks sold in retail stores and fast-food restaurants.
Preckwinkle said the tax was needed to fill a budget shortfall, but retailers and residents said the move would cost jobs, especially in Chicago’s Black community, where unemployment is high.
Despite heavy opposition by merchants and tax-weary residents, Preckwinkle moved forward on the proposal and cast the deciding vote after Cook County commissioners were deadlocked in an 8-8 vote.
Days before the law was to take effect on July 1, a Cook County judge ordered a temporary injunction after retailers filed a lawsuit claiming the soda tax was unconstitutional. The injunction was lifted in August, but for Preckwinkle, the damage was done and her political future was in serious jeopardy.
Sensing an opportunity to advance his political ambitions, Boykin considered running for Cook County board president, but kept quiet as the soda tax controversy played out in the media.
Publicly, Boykin was against the soda tax since Preckwinkle launched her campaign to pass it. He initially voted against it, and recently sponsored a proposal to repeal it. The board’s finance committee is expected to vote on the repeal Oct.10; the board will make the final decision Oct. 11.
In a letter to the Crusader, Boykin took swipes at Preckwinkle, saying, “the current County Board president and her administration has been, at best, inadequate, and at worst, outright harmful.”
Boykin also said Preckwinkle knows only one way to address revenue shortfalls: by implementing more taxes.
“And, the taxes she chooses seem to have one thing in common—they always hit those who can least afford it the hardest,” Boykin said. “At a time when our poorest residents face skyrocketing costs in so many areas of their lives, President Preckwinkle is attempting to balance the books by reaching into their pockets.”
Preckwinkle won big in 2010, defeating incumbent Board president Todd Stroger, and candidates Terry O’Brien and Dorothy Brown, with 46 percent of the vote. Once viewed as Chicago’s next Black mayor, Preckwinkle is now fighting to hold on to her job.
After she was elected in 2010, Preckwinkle rescinded Stroger’s one-cent sales tax hike, only to pass a 10.25 county sales tax years later.
With opposition mounting against her, Preckwinkle needs the Black vote to get re-elected. Had Boykin chosen to run against her, Preckwinkle might have drawn fewer Black votes than in years past.
If Boykin had run against Preckwinkle, he would have possibly drawn support from angry white voters and the Illinois Retail Merchants Association, the organization that sued Cook County over the soda tax.
Sources say the organization is recruiting candidates to run against three Cook County commissioners who voted in favor of the tax. They include: Commissioner Ed Moody (6th), Commissioner Luis Arroyo, Jr. (8th) and newly-appointed Commissioner Dennis Deer (2nd), who replaced the late Robert Steele.