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Ex-Cook County Board President Todd Stroger says he's running again

Monday, November 20, 2017
Chicago Tribune
by Hal Dardick

Hal Dardick, Chicago Tribune

11:55 am, November 20, 2017

Former Cook County Board President Todd Stroger is trying to make a comeback, saying incumbent Toni Preckwinkle has been “dishonest” about taxes with the people she represents.

Stroger announced his candidacy for the Democratic primary on Monday on Fox 32 TV’s “Good Day Chicago” morning show. That makes him the second out-of-office politician to say he’s running after former Ald. Bob Fioretti announced his candidacy last week.

In an interview with the Tribune, Stroger noted that Preckwinkle pledged during the 2010 Democratic primary campaign to eliminate what was left of the 1-percentage-point county sales tax approved during his term. Battered by criticism over the tax, Stroger in that race placed last in a four-way field. Preckwinkle followed through in repealing the sales tax, but she successfully pushed for its reinstatement after being re-elected in 2014.

“People can see that she wasn’t that honest when she was running against me about the sales tax,” said Stroger, also a former alderman and state lawmaker. “And I think she was very political on that. It sounded good to jump on the bandwagon and say we don’t need this. But in essence, it was exactly what we needed.”

Stroger also accused Preckwinkle about not being straight about the unpopular soda pop tax that the board repealed last month.

“I think people feel like she was just dishonest about this tax, and she wouldn’t let it go,” Stroger said, contending Preckwinkle initially said the purpose of the penny-an-ounce tax on sugar- and artificially sweetened beverages was to promote better health.

That narrative has been pushed by the beverage industry, which waged a successful multimillion-dollar Can the Tax campaign that fueled public backlash and led to the tax’s repeal. Preckwinkle, though, said from the start that the tax was designed to raise revenue first and foremost, but also had the advantage of helping to fight diseases related to sugar consumption.

Stroger now works part time for Ald. Howard Brookins, 21st, helping him with community relations. He was frank about needing a full-time position.

“I’m 54. I’m really too young to hang up the skates,” Stroger said. “I need to work. Also my children are 14 and 17. They need me to work.”

After Stroger made his announcement, Preckwinkle campaign political director Scott Kastrup issued a statement noting Preckwinkle’s efforts to improve county finances, reform the criminal justice system and widen the availability of health care — “after inheriting a broken system.”

“Cook County voters know what Toni Preckwinkle has accomplished and we are confident that she will be successful in both the Democratic primary and general election in 2018,” Kastrup said.

Stroger’s election bid faces many hurdles, not least of which is getting enough valid petition signatures from registered voters by the Dec. 4 filing deadline. It takes 8,236 signatures to run, but candidates usually need two to three times that number to withstand any petition challenges.

Stroger also will need to raise significant campaign cash to run in a countywide race, although he’s got nearly $111,000 in a campaign fund, according to Illinois State Board of Elections records.

He’ll also have to talk about his single term in office, which was marked by controversy. In addition to being criticized for the sales tax increase, Stroger was embroiled in patronage scandals. After he left office, two of his top officials were convicted on corruption charges.

Stroger’s assent to the office in 2006 also was controversial. His father, John Stroger, the longtime board president, won the Democratic primary that year after suffering a severe stroke that eventually took his life. Cook County Democratic Party leaders appointed the younger Stroger to replace his father on the general election ballot.

“I think that this time around, not following my father, I’ll get a better chance to express who I am without the press being a little overboard,” Stroger said.

Twitter @ReporterHal

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