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Proviso Probe

Saturday, November 07, 2009

President of the Cook County Board candidates forum

On Thursday, November 5, HACIA (Hispanic American Construction Industry Association) hosted a forum for candidates for the President of the Cook County Board at Instuto Cervantes. The following candidates attended (in order they were seated on the stage, from left to right): Todd Stroger (D), Toni Preckwinkle (D), Terry O'Brien (D), Tom Tresser (G) and John Garrido (R). According to the moderator Danny K. Davis (D) had to be in Washington, DC for a health care vote and Dorothy Brown (D) sent her regrets.

According to the moderator WLS, WSNS and CBS-2 all had TV crews there to film the forum.

HACIA prides itself on improving the number of construction contracts awarded to MBE (minority business enterprise) and WBE (women business enterprise).

Biographically this is what the candidates said about themselves.

Stroger, who is the incumbent, hammered that he has improved diversity in Cook County government. He also said he'd lived in the same house for 40 of his 43 years, minus one three year period when he moved ten blocks away. In his opening Stroger said he'd served in three levels of government: state, city and county.

Preckwinkle mentioned the development that has happened in her ward since she'd been alderman. She also included examples things the City of Chicago has done while she's been in the city council.

O'Brien explained he's been a commissioner at the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District for 21 years and has been president of that board for the last thirteen years. He contrasted the relatively smooth functioning of the MWRD with Cook County government.

Tresser founded the organization “No Games Chicago”, which opposed bringing the Olympics to Chicago in 2016. Tresser said that he started on led thirteen non-profit organizations in his life. He mentioned opposing Chicago's bid for the 2016 Olympics, but only once. Tresser teaches at IIT and DePaul. When Tresser referred to himself, he usually described himself as a “community organizer”.

Garrido is a lieutenant in the Chicago Police Department and a lawyer with a small practice. He serves in the 25th District (Northwest Side, Grand Central). Garrido characterized the district as 1/3 Black, 1/3 Hispanic and 1/3 “White”. Garrido's grandparents were from Mexico and Ireland. His wife is Polish.

MBE/WBE

Apparently, there was a 1990 court ruling (Richmond vs. J.A. Croson Co.) that changed how municipal government handled preferences for MBE and WBE. The City of Chicago, Cook County and the MWRD all responded differently. If I understood O'Brien correctly, the MWRD policies did not get challenged in court.

The city and county were challenged in court by the same plaintff. Preckwinkle explained that the city's post-Croson affirmative action withstood scrutiny because it was based on better documentation of inequities in city contracting in the absence of affirmative action. While noting that the problem predated Todd Stroger being in county government, she explained the county lost in court because it failed to assemble the documentation to justify a robust affirmative action program. Preckwinkle praised that the county is finally doing what is required by the courts to implement a strong affirmative action program.

When discussing her personal involvement in MBE and WBE programs, Preckwinkle indicated that she had consistently taken a leadership role in city council to ensure that MBE and WBE were included in city contracting.

Stroger said two things to burnish his credentials as a supporter of MBE and WBE. He told a story about an unnamed county official who wanted to avoid looking for a MBE or WBE vendor because there was an emergent need for services. Stroger refused to approve the vendor and told the county official s/he needed to look harder. Stroger said that since this incident he he hasn't had an official push to avoid looking for a MBE or WBE vendor.

Also, Stroger said Cook County had increased to 25% MBE and 10% WBE which exceeds the goals set.

Tresser expressed desire to increase MBE and WBE contracting levels to the percentages of minorities and women in Cook County. He said Cook County is 41% minorities and over 50% women.

Garrido drew attention to his Mexican heritage, but I didn't note that he ever said he supported affirmative action programs to diversify either the government workforce or vendors.

Sales tax

Preckwinkle reiterated her commitment to repeal the 1% sales tax increase over four years. She reasoned the incremental repeal would allow her administration to learn where waste existed in county government. She also expects that the county can secure more federal and philanthropic resources for health care expenses, which are approximately 1/3 of county spending.

O'Brien expressed a preference for cutting the sales tax completely from the beginning. He reasoned that if the sales tax continued the county would become dependent on the money. O'Brien emphasized the regressiveness of sales taxes. O'Brien said, “Difficult decisions will have to be made.... I'm not afraid to do it.” While he delivered the line with conviction, he did avoid naming specific cuts.

Tresser said, “We can't trust that we know the true financial picture [of Cook County government].” He said he's, “inclined to roll sales tax back as soon as possible.” He repeatedly emphasized that current accounting practices make it impossible to say if Cook County does or doesn't have enough revenue to fulfill its missions. Tresser said he'd do “forensic accounting... maybe a firm that goes after mob money.”

Garrido started with, “Collar counties have a great stimulus; it's called Cook County.” He claimed that 76% of residents don't shop in Cook County because of the higher taxes. Garrido called for roll back of the entire amount, immediately.

Stroger immediately jumped on the claim that 76% of residents don't shop in Cook County. He called it, “bunk”.

Stroger explained that Cook County only gets 17% of the sales tax revenue in Chicago. The State of Illinois gets 61% and the city gets 12%.

Stroger noted that Cook County hasn't raised property taxes in sixteen years. “We're not a business. We provide services.” Stroger broke down spending as 51% for public safety and 41% for public health. “The county is run well.”

There were some other moments when I thought candidates were effective.

Stroger gave an organized answer to the question about priorities. He said the most important thing is for county government to give services. Second is to make sure there's diversity. He wants, “Everybody gets their fair shake.” And he finished by saying that, “You can't believe everything you read in the newspaper.”

Stroger also made a valid point about the format which didn't allow rebuttals. He noted that almost all barbs and attacks were directed at him, so it was somewhat a four on one with the one guy not allowed to fight back.

Preckwinkle explained the legal aspect of MBE and WBE issues well. She also connected the need to diversify contracting to the need to get beyond giving jobs and contracts to people and companies connected to certain ward organizations.

Preckwinkle also handled the question about getting a fair treatment by the media gracefully. “I agree with Todd, he hasn't always gotten a fair shake.” She continued, “Part of the job is to manage the media.” Preckwinkle explained that being a leader in politics requires “not only doing the right thing but persuading people it is the right thing to do.”

O'Brien's most effective points were that MWRD has refunded $56 million to taxpayers it didn't need under his leadership and that MWRD maintains a AAA bond rating with all three bond-rating agencies. O'Brien was the only candidate to discuss measuring the percentage of vendors who were small businesses.

Tresser did something I liked in the first round of questions. The moderator had deviated from the format briefed. Tresser spoke after the three Democrats and asked about when the opening statements would be allowed. The moderator had forgotten and apologized. Opening statements went next.

Tresser had an effective close too. He read headlines about problems in city and county government, including mentioning Dorothy Brown and the headline gigging O'Brien for owning a business that did business with MWRD.

Garrido seems to have a knack for the one-liner. He said, he was “fed up” and “tired of being treated as an ATM” by politicians. He finished his opening statement by saying, “Unlike some this is not a birthright. I'm going to have to work for it.”

Generally Garrido wants to expand the inspector general's office and shrink the rest of Cook County government. He wants to reduce the workforce to 20,000. Garrido says the current workforce is 25,000. Stroger says it was 25,000, but has already been reduced to 23,000. Garrido also promised to reduce the Shakman exempt positions.

Weaknesses

Stroger raised the issue of his cousin in his opening statement, although he didn't mention Donna Dunnings (see Chicagoist (Chuck Sudo)) by name. Stroger defended himself by saying she was qualified. Stroger's defense seemed to be that as long as he wasn't violating regulations by hiring unqualified people he shouldn't be held accountable for making bad hiring decisions. He saved his opponents from having to use Dunnings to attack him because he used Dunnings to attack himself.

When asked what to do to minimize corruption and increase transparency Stroger responded that he's “done it already.” He stated the inspector general has the power to go into any office and investigate allegations of fraud, waste and abuse. The problem with Stroger saying the county is doing everything it should be doing both in delivering services and investigating corruption is that it's easy to infer that Stroger has done all the good he can imagine doing.

Stroger gave the number three as the number of Latinos he's put in leadership positions, but the number 29 for women in leadership positions. Unless his administration has significantly more women than men in leadership, it seems like there should be more Latinos in leadership. HACIA claimed that 24% of Cook County residents are Latino. If you assume women are slightly over half of Cook County then there should be almost half as many Latinos in leadership as women.

Preckwinkle squinted while on stage. Apparently she has real problems with the stage lights pointing in her face. She also had this problem at the Malcolm X College forum.

O'Brien delivered the line about not being afraid of difficult decisions just the way an actor or politician is supposed to deliver the line. I felt like he meant it. However, it would be more credible if it was packaged with something specific he was going to cut or do that was unpopular with some constituency.

I'm not sure how Tresser's claims about the Cook County budget will wear. Saying it's too FUBAR to evaluate allows Tresser to avoid answering questions specifically. However, Tresser might be right. When I discussed the budget with Commissioner Forrest Claypool's then chief of staff, he characterized the budget as being a tool to hide the truth more than a tool to manage what happens.

When answering the question about getting treated fairly by the media both Tresser and Garrido complained about being ignored.

After the forum some of Tresser's supporters were hassling the Stroger entourage about Stroger and company leaving in a huge SUV with municipal plates on it.

Candidate websites:

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5 Comments:

  • So Toddler claimed he lived his entire life within a few blocks of his present residence. I guess that means he either lied to everyone, forgot he got a college degree from Xavier University of New Orleans or actually got his degree out of a box of Cracker Jack. (Considering his daddy spent years on the Xavier Univ. Board of Directors, including a stint as its Chairman, that last choice can't be ruled out!)

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:05 AM, November 08, 2009  

  • I've been permissive lately b/c there have been fewer comments, but...

    The rules on Proviso Probe are that you're supposed to pick a name to post under. This makes conversations easier to follow for readers and allows people to refer back.

    The question Anon 12:05 raised occurred to me too.

    When I was in the Navy I remained registered to vote at the address I lived at in Oak Park (my parent's place). But I've never described myself as living continuously in Oak Park during that period.

    However, if Stroger lived in a dorm his entire time in college and came back to Chicago during every break, I suppose he could think of himself as living in Chicago those four years. Seems odd, but odd people are allowed to be elected officials too.

    By Blogger Carl Nyberg, at 8:07 AM, November 08, 2009  

  • The forum style didn't really leave a lot of room for clarification; I'd like to do that now.

    There is also a link the actual forum here:

    http://www.publiusforum.com/2009/11/06/video-cook-county-board-presidents-candidate-debate/

    MBE/WBE: During the forum, I indicated the workforce should be reflective of the community. I gave the example of the teams that work for me in the 25th district and how diverse they are.

    I believe it's unfortunate that we have to have affirmative action programs; the process should be fair enough across the board for everyone. But we all know it just doesn't work out that way in reality. I do support the affirmative action program that is in place and I indicated that part of my expanded inspector general's duties would be to ensure strict compliance.

    By Blogger John, at 9:15 AM, November 08, 2009  

  • In regard to taxes:

    I pulled the 76% statistic from the a poll conducted by the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce. It's a poll and I indicated it was a poll. 76% of those polled said they wouldn't shop here because of the high sales tax.

    Business along the border are suffering because of our high sales tax and our outrageous commercial property tax. When they close their doors, they take jobs with them. Again, the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce estimates we are going to lose 6% in sales tax revenue this year; the high tax is not helping.

    My focus will not be to balance the budget on the backs of the tax payers, but to manage our government properly.

    I will start by focusing on our top heavy management County-wide. Cook County is the largest employer in Cook County. Our function should be to do what we can to attract businesses and jobs, not attempt to employ everyone's family and friends.

    Not to mention the overpaid management positions walk away with huge pensions that we the taxpayers have to pay for. 80% of our budget is spent on personnel; that's crazy.

    This race shouldn't be about party affiliation, it should be about breaking away from business as usual machine politics and getting rid of all these career politicians. They've been holding elected office for so long, they don't even realize they aren't serving the interests of the people anymore.

    One-party rule is not good for any government; it breeds corruption. I just ask that you consider all options before casting your vote.

    By Blogger John, at 9:27 AM, November 08, 2009  

  • I do remember Garrido saying he favored using the IG to ensure that businesses participating in MBE and WBE programs legitimately met the criteria for the programs.

    Either I failed to note his statements or the notes I took were part of my notes I had trouble deciphering.

    By Blogger Carl Nyberg, at 10:12 AM, November 08, 2009  

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