Candidates for Cook County Board president attacked what they said was a culture of government corruption, with Republican Roger Keats and Green Party nominee Tom Tresser trying to paint Democrat Toni Preckwinkle as part of it.
Speaking before the Union League Club in Chicago Wednesday,
all three named ways they would reform county government.
Keats called Chicago "the most corrupt major city in the most corrupt major county in what is far and away the most corrupt state in the nation" and cited Preckwinkle's 19 years as a Democratic alderman.
Tresser assailed "crook county" and pointed to Chicago tax-increment-finance districts as "one of the biggest ripoffs in the country," saying Preckwinkle had backed four TIF districts in her Hyde Park Chicago ward. "You have to separate yourself from the crooks," he added.
Preckwinkle struck back by pointing to how she is one of the leaders of the Progressive Caucus in the Chicago City Council and said she was trying to bring "transparency, accountability and efficiency to county government."
She came under attack from both opponents for her support of Cook County Democratic Party Chairman Joseph Berrios, a Board of Review commissioner who is the party nominee for county assessor. Keats lumped Berrios in with Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, chairman of the state Democratic Party, saying, "Supporting those two I think disqualifies you for higher office."
Yet, Preckwinkle replied that she was a loyal lifelong Democrat, to the point where she dismissed Democratic Cook County Commissioner Forrest Claypool's independent campaign for county assessor because it was "not playing by the rules."
Keats boasted of his history working for bipartisan reform as a state senator from Winnetka in the '80s and said he would "fire 150 of Todd Stroger's friends and relations" on the day he took office and hire dozens of inspectors general to root out waste. A Democrat, county board President Stroger lost in the primary election.
Tresser promised a "10 percent solution," saying he would cut the county work force 10 percent "and not miss them," which he added would allow him to cut property taxes by 10 percent as well.
He cited his leadership in the No Games Chicago anti-Olympics movement, as compared with Preckwinkle's support for Chicago's failed 2016 Olympic bid, which he labeled a government boondoggle. "If you're a taxpayer in this county," Tresser said, "I saved you $1,000 already. You're welcome."
All pledged to roll back the remaining half of Stroger's 2008 percentage-point increase in the county sales tax, although Keats and Tresser said they would do it right away, while Preckwinkle has said she'd phase it out responsibly while finding new sources of revenue. "You're drinking the machine's Kool-Aid," Tresser said, to blame the county budget for retaining the tax increase at all.
Preckwinkle took the hits and kept emphasizing her good-government experience and credentials in a way intended to deflect the criticism, while Tresser and Keats stressed their outsider status.
The election is Nov. 2.