Crusader staff report
The future of Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle grew dim Monday, November 13, when former alderman Bob Fioretti launched a political campaign to oust the struggling incumbent and take the top seat, held by Blacks for 23 years.
One month after public outcry forced commissioners to repeal Preckwinkle’s controversial penny-per-ounce soda tax in stores and fast food restaurants, Fioretti announced his intention to run for Cook County Board President. With just four months to go before the primary, Fioretti has his eyes on the top job as Preckwinkle struggles to restore her appeal and recover from an image crisis that began when she led a successful effort to implement a tax on all unnatural sugar beverages a year ago.
Preckwinkle argued the tax was needed to close a $200 million shortfall, but retail merchants and consumers believed the move was just another money-making tactic that would cost jobs and increase grocery and fast food bills. Under her leadership, the sales tax in Cook County grew to 10.25 percent, one of the highest in the nation. With other taxes passed by Chicago, consumers and businesses say too many taxes make it too expensive to operate in Chicago and Cook County. With little time left to repair her image between now and the primary, Preckwinkle faces an uphill battle to win back weary voters who have grown tired of being taxed.
In announcing his campaign at a press conference at the Lansing Municipal Airport on the Far South Side, Fioretti said Cook County is “going in the wrong direction” and that he “will listen to the people.”
Fioretti used the Lansing Municipal Airport location to highlight the difference in taxes in Cook County, and across the state border in Indiana.
“Instead of taxing people out of our county, we must invite them in,” said Fioretti. “It’s time to rise up and take back our Cook County government from the political insiders who have been running and ruining it,” Fioretti said.
Instead of passing a soda tax, Fioretti said he would have listened to proposals from Cook County Commissioners to eliminate long–vacant positions, right-size county departments and consolidate positions whose services overlap.
Signatures are due December 4 for the primary election to be held on March 20, 2018.
Fioretti served two terms as 2nd Ward alderman. Raised in the Pullman/Roseland neighborhood, Fioretti ran against incumbent Rahm Emanuel in 2015. He later endorsed Emanuel. Businessman Willie Wilson and former 4th Ward aldermanic candidate Ebony Lucas are supporting Fioretti.
Preckwinkle announced her re-election bid in June, after serving two terms. A former alderman for the 4th Ward, she was once a popular leader who was considered the second most powerful in Chicago by Emanuel. In 2016, she was the driving force behind ousting Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez and State Rep. Ken Dunkin. Instead, she backed Kim Foxx and political newcomer Julianna Stratton; they won those positions respectively.
At the 2016 Democratic Convention in Philadelphia, she sat next to former President Bill Clinton, which fueled speculation that she would run for Emanuel’s position, after he said the mayoral seat is hers to win. At the time, Emanuel was facing heavy backlash from Chicago’s Black community for his role in suppressing a video showing a police officer shooting 17-year-old Laquan McDonald 16 times. Now it’s Preckwinkle who is in trouble.
Commissioner Richard Boykin in October threatened to run against Preckwinkle but eventually decided not to after speaking with several Black leaders, the Crusader has learned. No other prominent official had announced their bid to challenge the vulnerable Preckwinkle until Firoretti stepped into the ring.
While Preckinkle may get the support of Chicago’s rich Black electorate, it may not be enough to keep her in office with the high number of white and Hispanic voters in Chicago and outlying suburbs in Cook County.
Last year, tax weary voters showed their disgust at the polls when they approved a referendum to merge Recorder of Deeds with the Cook County Clerk’s office in 2020 to save between $800,000 to $2 million a year.
If Preckwinkle loses her re-election bid, it would be the end to a 23-year streak where Blacks served as Cook County Board President. The list includes John Stroger Jr., Bobbie Steele, Todd Stroger and Preckwinkle.