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MIHALOPOULOS: Will pop-tax anger unseat Preckwinkle, or fizzle out?

Saturday, November 18, 2017
Chicago Sun-Times
by Dan Mihalopoulos

After this month, Cook County won’t get another cent from its penny-an-ounce tax on sweetened beverages.

But could the bitter aftertaste from the pop-tax dispute linger with voters as they decide whether to re-elect County Board President Toni Preckwinkle next year?

In a poll paid for by what Preckwinkle calls “Big Soda” interests, she was less popular than Donald Trump.

Preckwinkle scored an abysmal approval rating of 33 percent, while 50 percent disapproved of the job she was doing, according to the poll conducted by David Binder Research of San Francisco from Oct. 28 through Halloween — a couple weeks after county commissioners went against Preckwinkle’s wishes and repealed the pop tax.

A political-action committee funded almost wholly by sweetened-beverage interests paid for the telephone poll of 500 registered voters, which had a margin of error of 4.4 percent.

The group, Citizens for a More Affordable Cook County, was created in the middle of the pop-tax fight but plans to remain on the local political scene.

The group has reported getting tens of thousands of dollars since the repeal vote, including $22,200 on Oct. 24 from Red Bull’s North American subsidiary and $15,000 on Nov. 8 from Westchester-based Ingredion Inc., a $5.7-billion-a-year company that makes sweeteners. Other big contributors have included Coca-Cola, ADM Corn Processing, Pepsico and the Dr. Pepper Snapple Group PAC.

“Taxpayers want a county government that lives within its means, just like we have to every day,” Citizens for a More Affordable Cook County said in a statement Friday. “We will be actively engaged in the upcoming March [primary] elections in support of candidates who share this view.”

Preckwinkle’s campaign predicted she would win a third term in 2018.

“While corporate special-interest groups are free to release misleading polls, she remains focused on protecting essential services, reforming our criminal justice system and strengthening access to medical care for Cook County families,” said her political director, Scott Kastrup.

Bob Fioretti, a former Chicago alderman, is challenging Toni Preckwinkle in the race for Cook Bounty Board President, but his other recent campaigns have been less than successful. | Sun-Times file photo

If her approval rating truly were at Trump-low levels, Preckwinkle probably would attract a much stronger challenger than Bob Fioretti, the former 2nd Ward alderman and failed mayoral candidate who announced his seemingly quixotic quest to topple her Monday.

It’s hard to see where Fioretti would much draw support. He’s managed to tick off both centrists and leftists among local Democrats.

On the City Council, Fioretti built a reputation as a progressive thorn in Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s side, but left-leaning groups preferred Jesus “Chuy” Garcia in the 2015 election. After getting just 7 percent of the vote to finish fourth of five candidates in the mayoral primary, Fioretti spun around completely and endorsed Emanuel over Garcia in the runoff.

Emanuel returned the favor by hosting a post-election fundraiser for Fioretti. Emanuel gave a speech lauding Fioretti and encouraging him to remain a vocal participant in the city’s civic life.

Yet, in true Emanuel form, the victor’s magnanimity apparently went only so far — he couldn’t resist making a little reference to Fioretti’s well-documented penchant for stiffing campaign workers.

“I want to thank all of you for being here to help him, to make sure that also his campaign doesn’t end up in debt, and he’s able to also make sure he pays all his bills and pays everybody and everybody gets whole,” Emanuel said in a video of the fundraiser, which was held at Manny’s Deli & Cafeteria.

Fioretti made a comeback bid last year but got just 32 percent of the vote in a two-way primary against state Sen. Patricia Van Pelt (D-Chicago).

By making his second effort at a second act in three years, Fioretti seems more like opportunist and perennial candidate than serious challenger to Preckwinkle.

No matter how much exactly she could remain damaged politically by the pop-tax fight.

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