Tonight was an exciting meeting at the Northside Democracy for America (DFA), the local arm of activists who endorse and work on behalf of progressive candidates and issues.
First off, nobody was happier at the end of the meeting than Jeff Smith. Smith is an Evanston attorney and longtime good government advocate who is running for state representative in the 18th District. He was unanimously endorsed by DFA, making him the first candidate to receive the organization’s endorsement for 2010 races.
After having Toni Preckwinkle speak to the organization two months ago, two elected officials with big name recognition came to speak to the Northside DFA. Cook County Commissioner Larry Suffredin and Congressman Danny Davis have both declined to officially announce their candidacy for Cook County Board President, as Toni Preckwinkle has, yet each man said they were definitely in the race at the DFA meeting.
Suffredin spoke first, bringing talking points up with him as he, from the outset, seemed extraordinarily careful about his message. Oddly enough, he started with defending his vote for supporting the 1 percent Cook County sales tax hike last year that has been wildly unpopular. Suffredin explained he gave Todd Stroger his vote for the tax hike primarily in a trade for establishing an independent board of health to oversee Cook County Hospital, and because Cook County’s finances were so badly mismanaged that the tax hike was necessary to get the County’s house back in order. Suffredin deflected the impact of the sales hike on Cook County, arguing that the collar counties are hurting for revenue as well. In other words, Suffredin suggested that the flight of Cook County consumer spending going to collar counties to save on higher taxes simply was not happening.
Suffredin commended the impact of the independent health board’s impact on the overall Cook County health system, claiming that the board has turned around its finances to benefit of $250 million.
I won’t speak for Northside DFA members, but I certainly was asking myself if Suffredin’s vote was really necessary to establish the independent health board. After all, reformers Mike Quigley and Forrest Claypool rejected the tax increase. It is hard to accept Suffredin’s argument that he is with the Quigleys and the Claypools when it comes to reform but also vote for the Stroger tax hike.
Clearly, Suffredin knows Cook County issues very well. But, I felt as though he was grasping and defending himself because he knew the vote for increased taxes was a mistake. He’s now voting for its repeal.
Danny Davis came and spoke next, using a much different tone. He projected leadership, experience and confidence. And while the local media is saying Davis will not run for Cook County Board President, Davis told Northside DFA that he is.
Davis presented the case that he’s worked his whole life representing progressive issues and wants to focus his Cook County Board President candidacy on healthcare, fixing the judicial/correctional system and reforming taxes. He didn’t say how he would approach any of these issue in specifics but his argument about his experience as a Chicago alderman, Cook County commissioner and Congressman sure sounded convincing. Interestingly, he did say that his strong suit was inspiring and motivating people and that he felt Cook County needed that type of leadership if it were to reform.
The last word here was something that Suffredin said in response to a question about waiting to declare if he was running. Suffredin flat out said that his strategy for not declaring is rooted in getting media attention. Simply, the longer he waited, the more the media would speculate and give him ink. Seems like it’s working.