September 20, 2017


And now for something completely different: A columnar reversal. Instead of my usual predictions in the final paragraphs, this week they are in the first paragraphs.
Prediction Number One: Commissioner Richard Boykin, a black attorney from Oak Park and an outspoken foe of the penny-per-ounce soda tax, will announce at the end of September that he is challenging Cook County board president Toni Preckwinkle. And he will defeat her in the March 20, 2018 Democratic primary by a comfortable margin. Like Anita Alvarez in 2016, who succumbed to a Laquan McDonald backlash, Preckwinkle will succumb to a soda tax backlash.
Prediction Number Two: The soda tax repeal, sponsored by Boykin, was referred to the board’s finance committee on Sept. 13, expected to be voted upon on Oct. 10, and by the board on Oct. 11. It will pass 9-8, be vetoed by Preckwinkle, and there will not be 11 votes to override. The tax was imposed in November of 2016 by an 8-8 vote, with Preckwinkle breaking the tie.
A veto will seal Preckwinkle’s doom. She faces a lose-lose situation: A veto will keep the issue politically alive. And if the tax is repealed, she will appear toothless and powerless. Preckwinkle had $441,432 on-hand as of June 30.
A non-repeal vote by some of the commissioners – such as Ed Moody (D-6), Luis Arroyo (D-8) and newly-appointed Dennis Deer (D-2) – will seal their doom as well. Beverage industry political action committees, and the Illinois Retail Merchants Association, will recruit pro-repeal commissioner candidates, and fund them. A countervailing force will be billionaire and former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Super PAC, which will continue to hype the tax as a children’s health issue.
The county board consists of 17 part-time commissioners, elected from single-member districts, paid $85,000, required to attend one meeting per month, and a president, paid $170,000, elected countywide, who has no vote except in a tie. This change became effective in 1994.
After her sizeable 2010 primary win, in which Preckwinkle trounced incumbent board president Todd Stroger, Terry O’Brien, and Dorothy Brown with 46 percent, Preckwinkle was once viewed as Chicago’s next black mayor. She’s no longer the Superwoman people viewed her as.
In 2010 she promised to rescind Stroger’s one-cent sales tax hike, and the board did. But the tax inched up by a half-cent, then another half-cent, as the county budget ballooned to $4.9 billion. There are 22,000 budgeted employees, with 1,500 unfilled vacancies. Preckwinkle claims to have cut employees by 10 percent. Exploding public safety and health care costs are the reason.
Gun violence escalated to the point where Stroger Hospital spends $30 million treating gunshot wounds, and the city’s 500 annual murders require autopsies that cost $5,000 each. Juvenile court is chaos, and each juvenile detainee costs $600 per day. Due to bond reforms, the number of daily inmates at the county jail has dropped from 10,000 to 7,500, and two buildings closed; but a recent collective bargaining agreement with the Teamsters boosted jail officers’ benefits, negating the savings.
Preckwinkle claims that the soda tax is a health issue, and that youths should consume less sugar. Higher taxes will supposedly decrease consumption and generate $224 million, to be spent at the hospital. That’s the amount needed to fill the budget’s “hole.”
“It’s an economic issue. It will cause people to shop and spend money outside the county, and businesses to not locate in the county, and it will not generate the revenue expected,” Boykin said.
Boykin intends to pound Preckwinkle’s “questionable stewardship,” her “poor response” to gun violence and health care, her lack of a “pro-growth” jobs-creation policy, her “capitulation” to the unions, and her “inability” to recognize that the soda tax disproportionately affects minorities, creating more food deserts. “We should be encouraging businesses to move into Chicago, not out,” said Boykin. As of June 30, Boykin had $81,508 on-hand.
Countywide turnout in the 2010 Democratic primary was around 560,000, with 343,000 in Chicago. The black vote was 142,493 in Chicago’s 19 black wards, with 90,000 of that from the South Side, which outvotes the West Side 2-1 in any primary. “Voters are mad as hell,” said Boykin “I’ll win the black vote.” If the Boykin contest remains a one-on-one, and thus a referendum on Preckwinkle, Boykin will, despite the efforts of white and Hispanic committeemen, carry a majority of the non-black vote. In white liberal enclaves, especially the North Shore and the Lakefront, Boykin will be the “reform” candidate.
When the soda tax was enacted, 8 commissioners voted no, including four Republicans (Silvestri, Morrison, Goslin, Schneider), three white Democrats (Gainer, Fritchey, Tobolski), and Boykin. The late Commissioner Robert Steele (D-2) was ill, did not vote, and was replaced by Deer. Pro-tax black commissioners were Butler, Moore and Sims, Hispanics Garcia and Arroyo, and whites Daley, Moody and Suffredin. “Deer will vote for the repeal,” predicted Boykin, “as will Moody and Arroyo.” That would make it 11-6.
Silvestri is less sanguine. “I think we’ll get to 10-7,” he said, “and she’ll veto it.” Suffredin, who represents the Evanston-Skokie 13th District, argues that the tax is a “tax of limited application,” with the revenue earmarked for the health care system. “We needed the revenue,” he said.
Many commissioners faced no opposition in 2014. That will change. The south suburban 6th District, where Moody was appointed to replace commissioner Joan Murphy (1998-2016), who died in 2016, stretches from Oak Lawn to the Will County line, and then east to Indiana, encompassing the remaining majority-white suburbs. The Moody Brothers – Ed and Fred – are Madigan proteges and veteran payrollers. Patricia Joan Murphy is running for her mom’s seat, ripping the “Moody Sugar Tax.” Also running is Worth Mayor Mary Werner, who decries her city’s lost revenue. If both run, Moody wins.
Arroyo’s dad is the local state representative and 36th Ward committeeman, and a rival of Assessor Joe Berrios, from the adjacent 31st Ward. Berrios desperately needs Preckwinkle’s support in the black wards to get re-nominated. Expect some Berrios-Arroyo deal to keep his son in line. Deer’s district is centered in Lawndale, in the 24th, 27th and 28th wards. He will stick with Boykin.
The soda tax adds 72-cents to a six-pack, and 68-cents to a 2-liter bottle. Voters feel the pinch, as will Preckwinkle and her pro-tax allies in 2018.