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ELECTIONS 13th Dist. Cook Co. Commissioner Incumbent Larry Suffredin on status, soda tax
by Carrie Maxwell, Windy City Times

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Democratic incumbent Larry Suffredin is running in the primary against challengers Bushra Amiwala and Daniel Foster while GOP candidate Chris J. Hanusiak is running unopposed.

Windy City Times: Why did you decide to run again?

Larry Suffredin: I still believe I can be a positive influence. My independent advocacy is essential and a lot of issues would not be brought up if I were not on the commission.

WCT: How would you approach the job differently if you are re-elected?

LS: Since there will be new board members due to incumbents not running, they will bring a fresh perspective to the table. I introduced a lot of ordinances that did not get passed because I did not have enough support. What I am hoping for is the new people will be open to doing more to strengthen the county's human rights ordinance, the County Care program that represents a lot of the Medicaid recipients and the hospital's direct services delivery system.

WCT: You missed a little more than 10 percent of the meetings in the last five years. Will you commit to attend most, if not all of, the meetings in the future?

LS: None of the meetings I missed caused there to be a lack of a quorum. In almost every instance, I was present in the county board building but negotiating other issues for the main county board meeting. One of the problems is on board days, we can have as many as seven committees that meet prior to the main board meeting. The committee meetings I have missed dealt with issues that do not affect my district. On county board days, I spend more time writing amendments to ordinances than any other commissioner. I will commit to always be there when my attendance is essential.

WCT: What are the most important issues facing the county and how would you address them?

LS: We are on the verge of a major crisis at the forest preserve. Through great staffing and volunteers the forest preserve is on the best footing it has been in awhile but we need to put more resources there. It is nearly 70,000 acres of land and one of the most remarkable natural resources for any county government but more money needs to be spent for restoration, getting rid of the invasive species and buying more land. I think we need a separate forest preserve board because it gets lost in other county board issues.

It was a disgrace that we laid off 321 people due to the soda-tax repeal vote. The vote should have been done at the end of the budget period, not mid-year.

We need to continue to work on our pension issues. I came up with the idea of paying more into our pensions four years ago, yet we are still only funded at about 60 percent.

WCT: What additional measures would you advocate for to provide more transparency in how the county government is run?

LS: This year, I got an ordinance passed so people can register their opinion online about county board issues. As chair of the rules committee, I made sure our journals were up to date for the first time in the county's history and the rules for people who want to speak at our meetings are clear. I want to work with the new members to make things even more transparent because people do not know what we do and that has to change. For example, we need to reach out in person more and I do that, including talking to young people.

WCT: What, if any, interactions have you had with the LGBTQ community?

LS: I worked with Mike Quigley when he was a commissioner on domestic partnerships. As a lawyer, I represented gay and lesbian bars owners so they could keep their liquor licenses because the police were giving them a hard time. I have also given money to LGBTQ groups and causes and sponsored people and groups in the Chicago Pride Parade.

WCT: What are the most important issues or obstacles facing the LGBTQ community and how would you address them?

LS: On the adult side, many of the issues are in good condition because of so many activists fighting but young people, especially transgender youth, are still facing discrimination in schools by school officials and GOP members of the Illinois General Assembly. Even though commissioners do not have any authority to change this we need to be vocal when discrimination happens.

WCT: Are there any changes you would make in how the county jail and health and hospital systems are run? If so, what are they?

LS: We need to investigate whether people who are incarcerated or utilize the county hospital are being discriminated against. I am constantly talking to Sheriff Tom Dart and county hospital leaders about this issue. Our hospital will only succeed if it is welcoming to everyone.

I worked hard on the court order on how bail is determined and that has reduced the jail population by over a thousand people. We are at the lowest number since I joined the commission with 6,000 people in jail and I think it can be further reduced.

We have found more ways for the federal government to pick up the cost of our hospitals. In the last six years, we have reduced the taxpayer subsidy to the hospitals and one way to continue this is to have more people who qualify sign up for County Care. The CORE Center at the hospital has been a great model when it comes to dealing with HIV/AIDS patients and we need to make sure the center keeps operating.

WCT: Why did you vote to keep the soda tax when it was up for repeal last fall?

LS: The soda-tax revenue was a part of the budget and big businesses bullied people on the commission to change their mind away from the budget process, and this is how it got repealed. I thought it was a fair tax because it would not affect almost everyone like property taxes do and it was not an outright sales tax that everyone has to pay. This is one of the best votes I have made.

WCT: What do you see are the best ways to raise revenue so the budget is balanced that do not involve regressive taxation on everyone in the county?

LS: Property taxes are not the way to go. This is because all of the other governments that also include Cook County are raising their property taxes. Due to the federal tax bill we are going to have to reevaluate our entire property and sales tax structure to figure out how to go forward. An Illinois constitutional amendment was passed that says all new gas taxes have to go to road improvements so there are a lot of limitations being placed on us. I am studying ways to go forward with all of these restrictions but most things require changing the Illinois constitution.

WCT: You are called the property tax commissioner. What does that mean?

LS: The general assembly controls how the county assessor and board of review operate, not the commissioners. Every three years, properties are assessed and every year they are reviewable. I put on seminars twice a year to remind people the system is set up where if a property owner is not protecting their property no one else is. That is why appeals are necessary. I have helped over 10,000 constituents file appeals and get reductions to their property tax assessments.

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