Cook County Commissioner Richard Boykin (1st), whose district encompasses Forest Park, is up against two declared challengers in the Democratic Primary race for his seat on the Board of Commissioners.
Brandon Johnson, a Chicago Public Schools teacher who is currently on leave and an organizer with the Chicago Teachers Union, and Bertha Pernell, a community activist, have both declared their candidacies.
Johnson, a resident of Chicago’s Austin neighborhood, said during an interview on Monday that he decided to run “because the current political leadership doesn’t value working and middle-class families.”
He offered a caustic description of Boykin’s first term in the commissioner’s seat, alleging the commissioner, an attorney by trade, has aligned himself with the Republican Party.
“Unfortunately, what you’re hearing from Richard is about cuts, closures, consolidations and efficiencies,” Johnson said. “He’s going after working-class people. Those are the talking points of the Republican Party.”
When asked what he thought about the county’s beverage tax, which Boykin opposed and helped lead the effort to repeal, Johnson said that “nickeling and diming working-class families in Cook County isn’t a way to solve the revenue issue.”
According to reports, the repeal, which takes effect on Dec. 1, resulted in a nearly $200 million budget hole that the board has to fill. Johnson said he thinks the hole is actually $315 million — a figure that Boykin would later dispute.
In response to the budget gap, Boykin has advocated targeting vacant and open positions in the county and encouraging cuts of at least 11 percent in some agencies. Those agencies that can’t cut more than 11 percent, he said, should explain why.
“Richard has not proposed any solution to how we actually generate revenue,” Johnson said. “I’m confident people don’t want cuts, closures, consolidations and efficiencies that attack the worker. We’re getting enough of that from the Republican Party.”
Instead of targeted cuts, Johnson said, the county should identify ways to extract revenue from those who can most afford to be taxed.
“We should tax people who have the ability to pay,” he said. “I’ve called for a corporate head tax that can generate hundreds of millions of dollars to our county government. That’s the type of revenue people want. They want us to go after folks who take advantage of tax policies that benefit the rich. We have to go after corporations, billionaires and millionaires who aren’t paying their fair share.”
During an interview on Monday, Boykin said that after a briefing with Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, the president took up his recommendation to cut 1,000 vacant and open positions, mostly middle administrators and staffing assistants. Boykin, who said the positions were mostly duplicative patronage posts, estimated that their elimination would amount to nearly $50 million in cost savings.
These positions are administrative, they’re not front-line jobs like nurses, doctors and state’s attorneys,” Boykin said.
Responding to Johnsons’ recommended corporate head tax, Boykin said that the tax would be “technically impossible” to pass at the county board level.
“You’d have to do it in Chicago or Springfield, the county doesn’t have that kind of authority,” Boykin said, before boasting about his record of securing what he estimated was around $25 million in grants for a range of uses, such as violence prevention and flood mitigation, and describing Johnson as absent from county affairs over the last four years.
“We led the repeal of the beverage tax. Where was he? He wasn’t anywhere to be found and, quite frankly, he’s never been to a county board meeting and hasn’t offered up one idea for county government,” Boykin said. “I’ve held over 100 town hall meetings and he hasn’t showed up to one.”
Pernell could not be reached for comment. Johnson said he’s currently going through the CTU’s endorsement process. He’s already landed the support of United Working Families, he said, a political organization of which the CTU is a member.