Impact of Soda Tax & Budget Battle Falls on Preckwinkle’s Re-Election Bid

Though many Cook County Board Commissioners played a role in the recent passage and repeal of the Cook County Sweetened Beverage tax and the ensuing budget cuts, Board President Toni Preckwinkle has been the primary target of backlash and media attention from the failed tax.

From its outset, Preckwinkle championed the tax as a revenue booster for the county, as well as a boon for public health. However, the tax still received overwhelming public opposition. Polls in September and October 2017 showed the soda tax had between 80-90% disapproval among Cook County residents – the same residents whose votes Preckwinkle hopes to win in her March 20th Primary Election.

Soda Tax and Budget Cuts Draw Preckwinkle Challengers
Preckwinkle is facing two Democratic Primary challengers in March – former Chicago Alderman Bob Fioretti and former Cook County Board President Todd Stoger. In 2010, Stoger lost to Preckwinkle in a four-way Democratic Primary, eventually leading to Preckwinkle’s election as Board President. Preckwinkle, who also faced Republican and Green Party challengers in 2010, did not face any Primary or General Election opponents in 2014.

Both of Preckwinkle’s 2018 challengers are using the failed soda tax as a major platform for their campaigns. In his announcement, Fioretti denounced the county’s tax increases since Preckwinkle took office in 2011, singling out the soda tax as an especially egregious financial choice.

Similarly, former Board President Todd Stroger criticized Preckwinkle’s unwavering support of the soda tax in spite of public opinion. He also accused Preckwinkle of dishonest politics by highlighting her pledge to eliminate the county sales tax in the 2010 election, only to reinstate it after her re-election in 2014.

Preckwinkle’s pre-2018 fundraising seems to indicate that her association with the county’s taxes has hurt her popularity. At this point in the 2014 election cycle, Preckwinkle had amassed $1.4 million for her unopposed campaign. Preckwinkle has only collected $850,000 so far for her 2018 re-election bid, 40% less than in 2014.

However, given the current field of candidates, declining popularity may not be enough to hinder Preckwinkle’s re-election bid. Stroger and Fioretti have yet to prove that they have the support necessary to defeat Preckwinkle.

Preckwinkle’s Opponents Lack Key Campaign Strengths
In terms of fundraising, Preckwinkle’s war chest looms over Stroger and Fioretti, who have $110,000 and $20,000, respectively — a combined total that amounts to less than one sixth of Preckwinkle’s campaign funds.Additionally, Stroger’s campaign funds are deceptively large. He has not received any contributions since 2010, so both candidates face the significant burden of establishing a donor base willing to fund a campaign against a well-funded incumbent.

Preckwinkle’s vulnerability might make such a feat possible with the right candidates. However, many commentators have questioned whether either Stroger or Fioretti is the right candidate to take on Preckwinkle.

On one hand, Stroger has to deal with issues from his previous term in Preckwinkle’s seat. Since Stroger announced his candidacy on November 20, news outlets have disparaged the former board president’s track-record. The Tribune Editorial Board accused Stroger of “willful forgetfulness,” citing Stroger’s own history of taxation as a sign Preckwinkle and Stroger are cut from the same cloth.

On the other hand, Bob Fioretti lacks a certain amount of support and name recognition that Stroger and Preckwinkle have generated with county-wide seats. Without a few big names or current elected officials backing him, Fioretti has a long way to go to win the contest.

Other Cook County Seats Lack Strong Soda Tax Reaction
There has been a strong local narrative that the Sweetened Beverage Tax will negatively affect the races of other Cook County Commissioners. However, the number of candidates declared in contested races for 2018 is on par with or lower than recent election cycles in the county.

Additionally, the expected proxy battle between the beverage lobby and billionaire Michael Bloomberg has yet to materialize, with the Primary Election just months away. In the heat of the implementation and repeal battle for the the soda tax, a spokesman for the former New York City mayor said he would do “whatever it takes” to support pro-soda tax officials. However, since the tax was repealed, Bloomberg has been silent about whether he will still support Preckwinkle and Commissioner Larry Suffredin, the only two anti-repeal officials seeking re-election.

The debate over the Sweetened Beverage Tax may have left President Toni Preckwinkle vulnerable in the upcoming election, but neither anti-tax advocates nor her two challengers have made significant financial strides to defeat her yet. However, despite the controversy and the two opponents it drew for Preckwinkle, it remains unclear how significantly the tax will affect Preckwinkle’s re-election in 2018.


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