Preckwinkle, union power evident in board races
by RUSS STEWART
For Toni Preckwinkle and the county’s public sector unions, March 20 may be remembered as the beginning of the end of the repeal of the infamous penny-per-ounce soda tax. Or maybe the beginning of the soda tax reimposition. Or maybe the beginning of the process to hike the sales tax by another one percent.
Not only did the county board president win handily, getting 60.7 percent of the vote, and carrying 44 of 50 Chicago wards, losing only in the 10th, 13th, 19th, 23rd, 38th and 41st ward, and winning 21 of 30 suburban Cook County townships, beating Bob Fioretti 426,350-276,611. Preckwinkle and her union allies – the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), SEIU Healthcare, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), and the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) – were also instrumental in the ousting of Democratic commissioners Richard Boykin and John Fritchey, who spearheaded the soda tax repeal. They lost renomination to the union-friendly Brandon Johnson and Bridget Degnen, respectively.
Preckwinkle also has two new board allies. Donna Miller won the racially-mixed southwest suburban 6th District, and Bill Lowry, an attorney close to Preckwinkle, won the near South Side 3rd District. In the Hispanic-majority 7th District on the Southwest Side and close-in suburbs, outgoing commissioner Chuy Garcia’s protege, Alma Anaya, won a tough primary – 14,159-10,664 – against state Senator Marty Sandoval’s daughter Angeles. Sandoval ousted Garcia for senator in 2002. Garcia won the 2018 4th District congressional nomination. All the new commissioners will be pro-Preckwinkle and pro-union.
Democrats hold a 13-4 majority on the 17-member county board, but two of the Republican commissioners will be targeted in the upcoming Nov. 6 election, particularly Sean Morrison in the northwest and southwest suburban 17th District, with a thin strip just east of the DuPage County border connecting Elk Grove and south Des Plaines to Orland Park, Palos Park and Tinley Park, with pieces of Riverside, Northlake, Hillside and LaGrange. The Bernie Sanders-founded and George Soros-funded "Our Revolution" is backing Abdelnasser Rashid, a political operative who works for leftist candidates, is co-chair of the group, and is on Clerk David Orr’s payroll as a deputy clerk between elections. Morrison is chairman of the county Republican Party, calls "Our Revolution" a "bunch of socialists," and was a vociferous critic of the soda tax.
"They will spend $1 million to beat me," Morrison said. The incumbent’s predecessor was unopposed in 2014, and Morrison, who was appointed, had $97,244 on-hand as of March 31, to Rashid’s $50,003.
Also in the cross hairs is Tim Schneider from the far northwest suburban 15th District, which includes Barrington, Streamwood, Schaumburg, Bartlett and Hoffman Estates. He is also the state Republican chairman. Kevin Morrison won the Democratic primary 11,756-11,746 over Ravi Raju, the Democrats’ preferred candidate in an area with a large and growing Asian Indian and Pakistani population. "Our Revolution" will be funding Morrison. The incumbent won 40,569-28,392 in 2014 and had $122,269 on-hand as of March 31, to Morrison’s $13,666.
A third Republican incumbent, Greg Goslin from the upper north tier suburban 14th District, which stretches from Glencoe through Northbrook to Wheeling and Palatine, has a credible foe in Glenview trustee Scott Britton. The incumbent was unopposed in 2014, and had $168,496 on-hand as of March 31, to Britton’s $11,482.
It is entirely possible that the incoming board, which will serve from December of 2018 through 2022, will have a solid, veto-proof pro-Preckwinkle majority of at least 12 commissioners. The only Democratic commissioners most likely not under her thumb are Bridget Gainer (10th), who is mulling a race for Chicago mayor in 2019, and Jeff Tobolski (16th), from the south suburbs, who were both pro-repeal. Occasionally Luis Arroyo (8th) and Dennis Deer (2nd) stray, but they both backed the repeal. The repeal won on a 15-1 vote.
Does this portend a new soda tax or a bump in the sales tax, which is already at 10.25 percent?
"I think not," said Pete Silvestri, the senior Republican commissioner, who represents the 9th District, which takes in the Northwest Side’s 41st Ward and a string of close-in suburbs stretching from Park Ridge to Elmwood Park. "But there will be a flurry of nickel-and-dime increases in fees, fines, and other less-visible taxes. Whatever she (Preckwinkle) wants will pass." Silvestri beat Frank McPartlin (D) 51,290-30,040 in 2014 and faces him again this year. As of March 31, Silverstri had $139,790 on-hand, and McPartlin had zero.
The soda tax repeal blew a $70 million hole in the $5.4 billion 2018 county budget, which was closed through budgetary cuts and layoffs. "There will be another large shortfall" in the 2019 budget, predicted Silvestri. The county has 22,000 employees, and 300 were laid-off as of Jan. 1, thereby incensing the SEIU, their collective bargaining union. "That’s complete hypocrisy," said Sean Morrison. Morrison explained that soda production workers would have produced fewer beverages, and the Teamsters, who transport those beverages, would have delivered less. And, he added, consumers and restaurateurs would have gone outside the county to purchase. "The revenue would not be nearly as much as expected," he said, "but the money would have been budgeted and spent."
1ST DISTRICT: "Where the CTU goes, Toni goes," said political consultant Frank Calabrese. And the CTU went ferociously after Boykin and in support of Johnson, a CTU official and former teacher. And where the CTU goes, the SEIU goes. In a major upset, Johnson beat Boykin 24,863-24,426, a margin of 437 votes.
Boykin is an attorney and partner in a prestigious Downtown firm, and lives in Oak Park. He was once an aide to his mentor, U.S. Representative Danny Davis (D-7), age 76, and was once thought his heir apparent. But, if he went to Washington, he would be precluded from practicing law. He was appointed as the nominee and elected unopposed in 2014,
But, sometime in 2016, Boykin got it in his head that he could be board president. The commissioner’s job pays $85,000, and the president’s pays $170,000, and he could continue practicing law. He was critical of Preckwinkle, and was all over the soda tax issue. He encouraged rumors that he would take on Preckwinkle in 2018, voted for the repeal – and made a lot of enemies. Boykin spent $449,259 from July 1 onward, while Johnson spent $498,119 from Nov. 1 onward.
The district contains 148 precincts in seven black-majority city wards, the largest being the 27th, 28th, 29th and 37th, which he won 12,343-11,084. There are 92 suburban precincts, of which 38 are in Oak Park, and the rest in Proviso Township (Maywood). Boykin lost Oak Park 8,138-5,989 and the suburbs 13,779-12,083. Harmon endorsed Johnson.
6TH DISTRICT: Handing-off one’s job to kids or kin is a political art form practiced especially well in Chicago. Complications arise, however, when the hander-offer dies before the hand-off is effectuated. And that’s what happened here after commissioner Joan Murphy (D), first elected in 1998, died in 2016. Her eponymous daughter, Patricia Joan Murphy, wanted the appointment, but the committeemen from far south suburban Bloom, Bremen, Lyons, Worth, Thornton, Rich, Orland and Palos townships, encompassing 219 precincts, gave it to Ed Moody, a Mike Madigan political operative and veteran county pay roller, who did not seek election. The district includes mostly white Oak Lawn, Bridgeview, Chicago Ridge, Burbank, Hickory Hills and Crestwood and mostly black Alsip, Robbins and Midlothian.
Murphy early announced her 2018 candidacy, but the committeemen endorsed Crestwood mayor Lou Presta. With the white vote split, Preckwinkle recruited Donna Miller, wife of David Miller, a former area state representative. Though Presta tanked, he stayed on the ballot and drained enough votes from Murphy to nominate Miller, 17,907-16,762-6,611. Miller carried the black areas in Rich and Thornton. Add another pro-Preckwinkle vote.
2ND DISTRICT: Unlike Murphy, longtime commissioner Bobbie Steele (1986-2006), with a 24th Ward base in the near West Side district, encompassing 16 wards, effortlessly handed-off her seat to son Robert Steele when she retired. Robert died in 2017. His replacement was Dennis Deer, out of the 24th Ward. His opponents were Eddie Johnson III, Paul Montes, Darryl Smith and Lupe Aguirre, but Deer, who supported the soda tax repeal, won with 32.8 percent. Preckwinkle and the unions did not attempt to beat him, although a single anti-Deer candidate would have easily won.
12TH DISTRICT: Despite his loud opposition to the soda tax, Preckwinkle remained officially "neutral" in the Fritchey-Degnen contest. The district includes all or part of 14 near North Side wards, but stretches from Wicker Park as far north as Edgebrook and Sauganash, including the 45th, 39th, 40th, 33rd, 32nd and 38th wards. The final vote was 23,703-19,113, with Degnen, a former deputy director of the state medical marijuana program, winning 12 of the wards, including the 32nd Ward (Wicker Park), where Fritchey is Democratic committeeman. Fritchey "has been around too long, and got complacent," said one politician. He was elected to the Board in 2010. The tipping point came when the Illinois Retail Manufacturing Association made a $100,000 independent expenditure for Fritchey, enabling the unions to reciprocate in kind. Fritchey spent $471,073 and Degnen $302,927. Add another Preckwinkle vote.
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