CHICAGO (CBS) — Declaring “this is a different age” than when Toni Preckwinkle defeated him seven years ago, former Cook County Board President Todd Stroger said he’s running for that seat again, claiming Preckwinkle has “made some bad mistakes” since she took office.
“We know the county’s in some trouble, and I know the county well, and I plan to work hard to make sure that we can get this budget crisis that we seem to always be in fixed,” Stroger said Monday morning.
In particular, Stroger took aim at the widely unpopular and soon to be extinct penny-per-ounce sweetened beverage tax Preckwinkle pushed through the county board last year to balance the budget. The county board voted to repeal that tax last month, less than three months after it went into effect in August. The tax officially goes off the books Dec. 1.
“She’s had her run at it, and we see that she’s made some bad mistakes. This sugar tax was a bad idea,” Stroger said of Preckwinkle, who defeated him in the 2010 election, largely on her opposition to a sales tax hike Stroger had pushed through two while he was in office.
Stroger originally was planning to run for a different office in 2018. He had been circulating petitions for the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District, but said people who signed his petitions kept asking him if he planned to run for county board president.
“I’ve decided, yes, I will,” he said.
Preckwinkle seemed unfazed at the prospect of facing off against Stroger again.
“Anybody who wants to run is entitled to do so,” she said.
The county board will vote Tuesday on a budget plan that would include 425 layoffs – largely middle management posts at the Cook County Sheriff’s and Cook County Chief Judge’s offices – to make up for the $200 million in revenue lost from the repeal of the soda tax.
Preckwinkle said those layoffs should be no surprise to Sheriff Tom Dart or Chief Judge Timothy Evans.
“The separately elected officials have known since the summer that we’re going to have to make cuts if we didn’t have revenue, and we made it quite clear to them that those were going to be significant cuts, and they have been,” she said.
Stroger running against Precwinkle’s soda tax would be an ironic mirror of the 2010 race that saw him lose his seat as board president after one term.
In 2008, the county board passed Stroger’s plan for a penny-on-the-dollar sales tax hike to balance the county budget. The board cut that tax hike in half a year later, and Preckwinkle defeated Stroger in the 2010 election largely on her promise to eliminate what was left of the tax.
Although Preckwinkle followed through on her promise to repeal the remaining sales tax hike in 2011, she later pushed through an identical 1 percentage point sales tax hike in 2015. Stroger said he feels vindicated for his stance on the sales tax.
“People love that word. Vindication, I’ll take that word, yes,” he said.
Stroger said Preckwinkle’s decision to raise sales taxes in 2015 proves he was right when he did so in 2008.
“I believe what that showed was that tax was needed. What we’ve seen in the last seven years is the budget has gone from $3.2 billion to $4.8 billion. The question is where is all that money going? Why do we need such a large increase?” he said. “I won’t be able to tell you that until I’m able to get in the books.”
Stroger also said he opposed the idea of a sweetened beverage tax when he was county board president.
“I thought it was a bad idea back then. So we’re not looking at the same race that was happening in 2010,” he said. “This isn’t 2010. This is 2017. So this is a different age.”
The sales tax Stroger pushed through in 2008 quickly proved very unpopular, and he said it was particularly painful to see the Chicago Tribune essentially count down the days until he could be voted out of office.
In 2009, the Tribune editorial board posted an image of a ticking clock on the newspaper’s website, counting down the time until the 2010 election.
“I believe they did it, because they wanted me out. That was almost personal. I don’t think I’ve ever seen any newspaper or any place say this one person is so bad that we need to remind you that you can unelect them every day. That was over the top,” Stroger said.
The former county board president conceded he’s learned some lessons from his loss in the 2010 election, particularly that he should have spent more time publicly explaining his policies.
“I spent a lot of time in that office. I was trying to make sure that that county ran perfectly. As an elected official, you have to be out a little more. You have to let people know exactly what you’re doing, how you’re doing it, why you’re doing it. So if I’m in office, I expect to be out a little more to let people know why we are doing what we do,” he said.
Stroger isn’t the only candidate to step up to challenge Preckwinkle in 2018.
Last week, former Chicago alderman Bob Fioretti announced he would be running against Preckwinkle on an anti-tax platform.
“We don’t invite people in here, we tax them out,” Fioretti said. “When Cook County is the only county to impose tax after tax — whether it’s an extra sales tax, a soda tax, or a special leasehold tax — the disastrous results are predictable.”
So far, no Republicans have announced plans to run for Cook County Board President in 2018.
Preckwinkle’s approval ratings have taken a serious hit in recent months due to the sweetened beverage tax.
A poll taken just weeks after the soda tax went into effect in August found Preckwinkle’s approval rating at a mere 21 percent. A more recent poll showed her approval at 33 percent.