Deja new? Preckwinkle vs. Fioretti II features same candidates but different party for challenger
Former Ald. Bob Fioretti blames Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle for surging crime, claiming she “put the county in danger with reckless spending, over-taxation and flat out incompetence.” She counters that “12 years of hard work in the job I hold” separates her from Fioretti, who is waging his sixth campaign in seven years.
Democrat Toni Preckwinkle is seeking her fourth term as Cook County Board president, after a third term in which the area saw surges in violence after the start of a pandemic that caused worldwide health and economic uncertainty.
But if the challenges she has faced have been a bit unfamiliar, her general election challenger is not.
Preckwinkle is squaring off against the same rival she did four years ago. But this time, former Chicago Ald. Bob Fioretti is running as a Republican, after losing his Democratic primary challenge to Preckwinkle in 2018.
It’s Fioretti’s sixth campaign in seven years for four different offices.
He blames Preckwinkle for the surge of crime throughout Cook County.
Asked what he’d do about the problem, Fioretti says he’d provide more county funding for law enforcement.
“We should be supporting the men and women of our law enforcement and make sure they have the adequate resources to keep our communities safe,” Fioretti told the Chicago Sun-Times.
Fioretti, 69, also criticizes Preckwinkle for depopulating county jails, claiming she “put the county in danger with reckless spending, over-taxation and flat out incompetence.”
“She treats violent offenders as the victims and disregards the law-abiding citizens of this county,” he said.
But Preckwinkle, 75, said what separates her from Fioretti is “12 years of hard work in the job I hold.”
And the Democrat sees the decrease in county jail population as one of the high points for her administration during her latest term.
She emphasized improving safety in jail cells following the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and “giving nonviolent offenders the opportunity to be with their families instead of in a jail cell because they didn’t have the money for bond.”
“We reduced the jail population from 11,000 to [about 5,600,]” Preckwinkle told the Sun-Times. “Although we started the pandemic in a difficult place ... We were able to respond quickly and effectively and depopulate the jail and make it a much safer place for those who are detained.”
When asked about the increase in violence across the county, Preckwinkle, who also serves as chair of the Cook County Democratic Party, labeled crime and law enforcement as a “local responsibility” and cited the pandemic as “an incredibly tumultuous time.”
“The isolation, the inability for people to secure social and emotional support, the economic insecurity, lots of people just lost their jobs from one day to the next,” Preckwinkle told the Sun-Times when describing how the pandemic influenced heightened crime rates.
The Hyde Park Democrat said she is “hopeful the [crime] numbers will decrease as the pandemic wanes,” adding that 30% of the county’s budget goes toward public safety.
Fioretti claims the county’s projected $8.75 billion budget for next year — which includes $1 billion in COVID-19 relief funds through the American Rescue Plan — provides a “false sense of security from a one-time payment.”
“Our infrastructure is crumbling, our taxes are higher than ever, families and seniors are being taxed out of their homes because of the burdensome property taxes,” Fioretti said.
Over $5 billion of the county’s projected budget is expected to go toward public health and safety next year, according to budget projections.
Public health was one of Preckwinkle’s main areas of focus during her current term — which included getting over a million of the county’s more than five million residents vaccinated, she said.
Her administration was also working with nonprofit organization RIP Medical Debt to “reduce the burden of medical debt on residents.”
“We’re entering into memorandums of understanding with providers so that they sell their medical debt to us [Cook County] instead of collection agencies, then we just wipe it out and send people letters saying ‘your medical debt has been eliminated,’” Preckwinkle said.
Fioretti heavily criticized the Promise Guaranteed Income Pilot, another program recently introduced by Preckwinkle to ease financial burden on struggling residents.
He said the program — which will provide $500 a month for two years to 3,250 residents whose household income is at or below 250% of the poverty level — is a “system designed for failure.”
“We’re not asking people to have job training, seek out jobs or helping them to better their lives, we’re just giving them $500,” the Near West Side Republican said.
Fioretti has a lengthy history of running for office, with limited success.
He was elected to the City Council in 2007, but ran for mayor in 2015 and 2019, the latter time garnering just 0.77% of the vote. He’s also run unsuccessful campaigns for the state Senate in 2016, Cook County Board president in 2018 and state’s attorney in 2020.
Fioretti told the Sun-Times that while his party alignment may have shifted, his “core values haven’t changed.”
Preckwinkle also ran for mayor in 2019, losing to current Mayor Lori Lightfoot in the runoff election.
Her campaign had over $181,593 available at the end of September, compared to Fioretti’s campaign, which had about $8,019 in his main fund, plus a little over $179 in another active fund and nearly $10 in still another.
Also running is Libertarian Thea Tsatsos. The River Forest resident said her campaign “serves to spread the Libertarian ideas of personal freedom and individual responsibility, as well as further establishing the Libertarian Party in Cook County.”