With three candidates vying for an open seat, the 6th District Cook County Board race is one of the few competitive local races and one of the most contentious.
The incumbent commissioner, Chicago Ridge resident Ed Moody, chose not to run for election to the seat he was appointed to in 2016 after Joan Murphy died. Her daughter, Patricia Joan “Tricia” Murphy of Crestwood, is one of the three people now in the race. The others are Crestwood Mayor Lou Presta, and Donna Miller, a healthcare consultant from Lynwood.
No Republicans are running in this race, so the Democratic winner is assured of taking the seat.
Presta, 67, said he is the only one of the three with any political experience. He was a Crestwood trustee for 19 years before being elected mayor in 2013. He also owns a newspaper distribution company.
“These two other candidates have never balanced a budget,” said Presta during a phone interview on Monday. “The Cook County Board has a $5 billion budget. This is serious business.”
Presta said he has helped reduce taxes in Crestwood, and can bring his ideas to the Cook County Board.
“We have some of the lowest property taxes in the county in Crestwood. And we rebate property taxes each year to homeowners and businesses. I want to be able to do that for everyone in Cook County. We can make the taxes up in other areas, such as retail sales tax, like we do in Crestwood,” said Presta.
He pointed to a new development being announced this week that will bring an Aldi grocery store and Chick-fil-a restaurant to a 30-acre vacant site owned by the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District along the Cal-Sag Channel, just west of Cicero Avenue in his village.
“Big things are going to be happening there,” said the mayor.
All three candidates have said that they want to reduce the tax burden, which they believe is driving people and businesses out of the 6th District and Cook County as a whole.
Miller, 52, of Lynwood, pointed out that the district takes in 35 communities in eight townships, stretching from Bedford Park on the north to communities such as Lansing and Lynwood near the Indiana border. Along the way it takes in all or part of Oak Lawn, Chicago Ridge, Worth, Palos Heights, and Orland Park.
“Our district is bordered by Indiana and Will County, so we are especially hard hit by high taxes. When the sweetened beverage tax was in place, people went to Indiana and Will County to avoid it, and they ended up buying all their groceries there,” said Miller.
“That tax amplified my reasons for getting into the race. We have to be more cognitive of these effects when enacting taxes.”
“We have to seek support at the state and federal level to get things done here. I think the idea is to protect the Southland as a region, and not pit communities against each other. We want to have the whole region work together, to collaborate and communicate. That is what I am good at,” said Miller, asserting that being “independent” sets her apart from her opponents.
Murphy, 55, said in a statement that she was inspired by her late mother’s work as 6th District Commissioner, but “I am not running for this office with any sense of entitlement. I am running for the privilege of serving the nearly 36 communities in the 6th District.”
She said county commissioners need to find other revenue streams to alleviate the burden on property owners.
Miller also pledged not be “a double-dipper,” but said she will continue as a consultant because she make her own hours in that position.
They were both referring to Presta, who plans to remain mayor of Crestwood if he is elected to the Cook County Board. He did, however, say that he would like to see term limits for county elected officials, noting that he enacted them in Crestwood.
“Three terms is plenty. I won’t serve any more than that (12 years). That’s a promise.”
Presta said he would like to see unincorporated areas of the county be annexed into adjoining villages, which he maintains would save the county a lot of money.
“I know the residents of those areas would have to agree to it. But being incorporated, we could provide better police and fire service, streets, and everything. It is not a popular idea with some of the townships, but it would be better for everyone.”
Miller said she would only support annexation if the residents decided by referendum to do it.
“People live in unincorporated areas for a reason. I wouldn’t support such a measure unless the people wanted it,” agreed Murphy.
Presta’s opponents have pointed to recent published reports of his financial woes, saying they make him unfit for the position he is seeking. He acknowledged that in in 2015, the IRS came after him seeking $22,663 in federal taxes that he owed, and the state filed a lien against him in December 2016 for another $2,516 in unpaid taxes.
“I didn’t steal anything. I am making monthly payments. It is the result of a business deal that went wrong more than 20 years ago that I am still paying for,” he said.
Presta said those issues are only being raised now because he is “the front-runner,” with heavy union support and backing from most of the mayors in the district.
“They wouldn’t be worried if I wasn’t the front-runner,” he said.