Cook County Commissioner Richard Boykin (1st), whose district includes Oak Park, where he lives, said in an interview last week that he’s considering a run to replace Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle — who is currently dealing with the fallout from an unpopular sweetened beverage tax, deep budget cuts and mass layoffs. 

“President Preckwinkle has taken us as far as she can take us,” Boykin said. “She’s damaged the county in a real way. She’s done as much as she can do. … I expect that this whole beverage tax, the incompetent way it’s been rolled out and the unfairness of it will hurt her. It will damage her [politically].” 

Boykin, whose first term expires next year, said that while many people have been encouraging him to run against Preckwinkle, he’s focused on retaining his current seat on the board in 2018. But, he didn’t rule out a challenge to the sitting board president — pending the right conditions. 

Boykin said he’s open to a third-party commissioning an independent poll showing how he’d fare in a matchup against Preckwinkle. If he’s comfortable enough with the results, Boykin said, he may announce a challenge.

 “I am not going to rule out a run,” Boykin said. “I think it will be unfair to the voters of Cook County. If voters want me to run, they’ll show it through their support. I believe we have the right ideas and the right kind of reform mantle to do it.” 

Boykin has been vocal in his opposition to a range of measures that Preckwinkle has pushed, most notably the implementation of a penny-per-ounce sweetened beverage tax that was approved by the board last year. Boykin voted against the tax; Preckwinkle cast the tie-breaking vote.

Before its scheduled July 1 implementation, the Illinois Retail Merchants Association challenged the constitutionality of the tax in a lawsuit that was eventually dismissed by a Chicago judge in late July. The beverage tax took effect on Aug. 2. 

While the beverage tax was held up in court, Preckwinkle announced that more than 1,100 county employees, most of them in the Sheriff’s Office, could get layoff notices in order to offset the $68 million in revenue the county had anticipated from the tax. 

In early August, the county announced that, due to the delay in implementing the tax, around 110 recruits and trainees from the Sheriff’s Office received layoff notices. 

Boykin has described the layoffs as “bullying tactics” made by Preckwinkle to force the court to rule in favor of the beverage tax. In the interview last week, he doubled down on this characterization. 

“President Preckwinkle is a bully,” Boykin said. “She manufactured a crisis to get the judge to try to sway public opinion in her direction regarding this unfair tax.” 

Boykin also said that the board president “has turned a deaf ear” to budget-related proposals from his office and added that Preckwinkle hasn’t responded to his requests to hold a special August meeting to handle the budget situation. 

“There’s no reason we should take the whole month of August off,” Boykin said. “I made a request to her that we convene an emergency meeting for August and she hasn’t responded.” 

In emailed comments, Frank Shuftan, Preckwinkle’s communications director, called Boykin’s “bully” remarks “absolute nonsense” before noting that Boykin’s request for the emergency meeting “came in the form of a letter which was sent to the president’s office at 4:40 Friday afternoon, after the close of regular business. She has not had a chance to review it and any response will go first to the commissioner, as is appropriate.” 

“The commissioner has mentioned several of the items from this letter during one or more of his numerous media appearances,” Shuftan said. “It seems rather curious to air them in this fashion over a couple of weeks, then send a more formal letter. Perhaps the process might have been reversed if he was seriously interested in dialogue.” 

Shuftan also said that Boykin’s vote in favor of the county’s 2017 budget, “which included the revenue from the beverage tax as a key component to close a budget gap,” indicated that he “felt comfortable with the budget, its components and assumptions that went into its development.” 

The relationship between Boykin and Preckwinkle has been strained since Boykin was elected to the board in 2014. During the campaign, Preckwinkle backed Boykin’s main challenger, attorney Blake Sercye. 

Boykin said that he’s heard that Preckwinkle’s political team has been trying to recruit potential candidates to run for his seat on the board next year. A representative from Preckwinkle’s political operation couldn’t be reached for comment by deadline. 

Boykin said that he’ll reach a decision on whether to challenge Preckwinkle before the filing deadline in November.


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