Larry Suffredin, elected to the Cook County Board in 2002, is running for re-election, he says, because, “I still think I can make a difference.” He says he feels he has helped raise the profile of County governance and credits his outreach, including 36 seminars on how to appeal tax assessments, for making a real difference in people’s lives.
Mr. Suffredin cast the deciding vote in favor of Commission President Todd Stroger’s proposed income tax increase. “It was the right vote at the time, and I’d do it again. The County was on the verge of going bankrupt,” he says. Mr. Stroger had rejected all compromise budgets and, absent a tax increase, proposed a budget that cut health services 17 percent across the board, Mr. Suffredin says, adding that he felt he had little choice but to vote for a sales-tax increase.
The vote did not come without conditions. Mr. Suffredin says that his vote came only with the inclusion of language creating an independent County Hospital oversight board. The oversight board accomplished two goals, he says: taking the hospital out of Mr. Stroger’s control and eliminating wasteful spending, resulting in a $300 million cash flow turnaround in just one year.
Mr. Suffredin is not shy about his opposition to Mr. Stroger’s leadership. He points to changes that have transferred control of the County’s Juvenile Temporary Detention Center (JTDC) from the office of the President to the office of the Chief Judge. With the hospital and the JTDC out of Mr. Stoger’s control, Mr. Suffredin says, the only place for Mr. Stroger to place friends and relatives is the highway department. And the highway department is next on his list.
Now that the tax increase has stabilized the budget, Mr. Suffredin says he will fight for its full repeal. Half of the 1 percent increase was repealed, effective July 1. With a new Commission and a new Board president, Mr. Suffredin says, the repeal of the remaining 0.5% will be close behind.
John Michael Keefe
John Michael Keefe cites three reasons for his decision to run for County Commissioner: the sales-tax increase, his own qualifications and the chance to get his issues into a public forum.
“The sales tax increase really hurt the County,” he said. Retail sales dropped 14 percent in Cook County but just 11 percent in collar counties, he says. While the downturn in the economy was a factor, Mr. Keefe says he believes the 3 percent difference is due to the higher sales tax rate in Cook County – “a colossal mistake” costing, he estimates, more than $1.2 billion in economic activity.
Mr. Keefe holds a Ph.D. in Political Science from Northwestern University. He has also studied urban and regional planning, and he runs an environmental consulting business. He says he feels that all these make him “very well qualified” for the County Commissioner position , his second reason for entering the race.
Mr. Keefe’s third reason is that he feels it is important to get his issues into the public forum. He says he knows he is fighting an uphill battle against an established and respected incumbent. “If I don’t win, but the sales tax comes down, I will view that as a win,” he says.
“Lean, Green and Clean,” said Mr. Keefe, describing the theme of his campaign. He says he wants audits of every County department, using the hospital oversight board as a model. He believes the County’s 25,000-payroll can be trimmed by about 5,000 employees. He also says that economic development and attracting new businesses into the County are key to economic success. Right now, the reverse commute – in which people leave the County every day to go to work elsewhere – is growing, Mr. Keefe says, and he says he seeks to reverse that trend.
Mr. Keefe also says he wants to make Cook County one of the greenest in the country. He cites his qualification as a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design)-accredited professional when stating a goal of making all County facilities LEED-certified.