Richard Boykin is the Pop-Tax Slayer.
The three-year incumbent County Commissioner from the first District (Maywood, Broadview, Bellwood, Oak Park and parts of Chicago’s west side) made a name for himself when he took a major lead in the effort to repeal the unpopular Cook County soda tax last month.
Now, the Commissioner’s back in the news for his trip to New York last week to meet with officials from the United Nations.
“It was a great meeting with the Assistant Secretary General,” he enthuses. “He gave us some great ideas. He also revealed that they are doing a youth global study on violence causes and cures, and that he would be interested in coming to Chicago to present on the findings once it’s complete in 2018, and so I plan to extend that invitation to him.”
Boykin resists the idea that he went to the UN to ask that peace-keeping troops be deployed in Chicago’s streets. He says he described a “quiet genocide” in the African American community that needs outside help to be stopped.
“The trip was never about bringing troops to our soil,” he explains. “Of course, most people understand in order to do that you have to have a vote in the Security Council, which the U.S. is a permanent member. There have never been foreign troops from the UN on the soil of America. And so I don’t think that this would have happened in Chicago. So it was all about peace building and not necessarily troops.”
But the issues he wanted to discuss are a painful, nagging conundrum for every Chicagoan. “Every institution of county government is implicated in gun violence,” he asserts. “Stroger Hospital, that great trauma center, most folks go to Stroger when they are shot. $55,000 just to stabilize somebody who is a gunshot wound victim. If the person is shot in the back and they have a spinal cord injury, you’re talking about millions of dollars in care, depending if the person is 13, 14. You’re talking about taking care of a person for the rest of their lives. That’s taxpayer money. It’s a different kind of tax, right? It’s a tax of violence that you’re paying.”
Boykin argues that any strategy that successfully reduces street violence will eventually result in significant tax savings. But he bristles at the suggestion that the $200 million Cook County didn’t get in taxes because of the Pop-tax repeal did any harm.
“We haven’t closed any clinics,” he assures us. “And quite frankly guess what? The same level of services that people enjoyed last year are the same level of services that they are getting right now. Now, I told you about criminal justice reform, and let me make another point, we didn’t lay-off one assistant state’s attorney. We didn’t lay-off one public defender. No sheriff’s police, frontline sheriff’s police, no correctional guards, no doctors, no nurses, none of them got laid off. Why? Because we wanted to make sure that we had the level of services for the most vulnerable and the most needy in our society.”
“Now let me tell you something, ” he adds. “We didn’t need the $200-million. They were going to use that money to add bloat to the government…We laid-off 321 people out of 22,000 people. Now, 321 out of 22,000. The budget director targeted middle-management positions, duplicative positions for those layoffs, and quite frankly, the citizens of Cook County desire that. They deserve it. We have to operate within our means.”
Can you tell me today, we challenged, that operations at the Cook County Health and Hospitals group, the hospitals and all the associated things, that their services will not be deteriorated as a result of the cuts?
“I can tell you that for a fact they will not be deteriorated'” he replied.
We can play this tape back a year from now, we asked?
“We can play this tape back a year from now,” he insisted. “Let me tell you, there’s still yet a lot of waste at the health and hospital system. There’s still yet a lot of right-sizing that we must do at the health and hospital system.”
We conclude from this conversation, we tell Boykin, that he doesn’t seem too crazy about the job that Toni Preckwinkle is doing.
“I’m not, He quickly responds. “I’m not, and you know, quite frankly I think there’s some steps that she’s made that have caused the County some heartache and some pain. She’s done some good, but not nearly enough. Not nearly as much as she could have. And quite frankly, on this last budget she really didn’t want to do it.”
“Let me tell you something, ” he continues. “Some people say that I don’t favor tax increases or tax revenue. I put forward a plan two years ago to raise the gas tax by 5-cents, but every penny of that would have gone into a youth jobs program to help our infrastructure, improve our infrastructure…President Preckwinkle didn’t get behind it. Guess what? It would have been a brilliant idea. We would have had $50-million in that fund right now. I mean we put forward some brilliant ideas that she has failed to get behind, because personally she doesn’t like me. And so that is the reason why her judgment is off and that’s the reason why she didn’t get the sugar tax, because quite frankly she let her own personal individual feelings get ahead of the real business.”
It’s not very often that somebody will just outright say that ‘she doesn’t like me” we observe. “I mean, it’s personal then?”
“Oh, it’s personal,” he responds. “It is, but it’s not personal for me.”
We ask for details. Did you do something? Do you have some history or something with her?
“I think the fact that I dared to stand up and speak truth to power,” he says.”I think the fact that I would bring my decision-making based on my district as opposed to falling in line like a rank and file Democrat. I’m not that. That’s not who I am.”
This morning the Tribune and ProPublica presented the latest in their series about the Assessor’s office, which details misdeeds from nepotism to illegal hiring and firing, and concludes that the office is being managed incompetently. “We’ve got to make sure that we’ve got a fair property tax system that people can be proud of,” Boykin asserts. “Our current assessment system has some flaws in it and some problems. Preckwinkle proposed a study. We don’t need another study, we need results.”
Boykin offers his support for Sheriff Tom Dart and Chief Judge Tim Evans, both of whom he says are doing their jobs well. But he’s more reserved the we ask him if Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson, who gently criticized Boykin for visiting the United Nations is “the right guy for the job”
“I like Superintendent Johnson,” he assures us. “I think he’s got to do more and he’s got to do it quickly, and if there are no changes, if things don’t change fast then I don’t know how much longer he will be there.”
Listen to the entire discussion in audio-only form (and conserve your phone battery)
And read the full transcript here: CN transcript Dec 21 2017