On Tuesday, voters will head to the polls to throw their support behind incumbent Richard Boykin or his challenger Brandon Johnson for a seat on the Cook County Board of Commissioners representing the West Side.
Cook County’s 1st District covers much of Chicago’s Austin and West Garfield Park neighborhoods, as well as the suburbs of Oak Park, Forest Park, Maywood, Bellwood and Hillside.
For those voting in person, polls will open at 6 a.m. and close at 7 p.m. Mail-in ballots must be postmarked on Tuesday to be counted. More information, including where to vote, can be found at the Cook County Clerk’s website.
Boykin, an Oak Park resident who works as an attorney and lobbyist, has served as the district’s commissioner the last four years, beating four other Democrats in the 2014 primary. Before becoming commissioner, Boykin worked as chief of staff for U.S. Rep. Danny K. Davis for nine years.
His challenger, Johnson, is an organizer with the Chicago Teachers Union who lives in Austin. Before going to work for the union in 2011, Johnson taught social studies and reading in Chicago Public Schools.
Boykin presents himself as pragmatic and business-minded. His first term speaks for itself, he says, both in terms of his accomplishments and what he described as a progressive record. Boykin was as the forefront of the charge last fall that led to the repeal of the penny-per-ounce tax on sweetened beverages.
He says he helped to trim the county budget of waste and saved taxpayers $52 million by eliminating more than $1,000 positions in county government. Boykin has said most of these positions were “vacant” and that the cuts were done without compromising on the safety or health of the community.
Boykin also says he brought $25 million economic development and job training grants back to the 1st District, and sponsored legislation to increase the minimum hourly wage in Cook County to $13 by 2020 and provide for paid sick leave.
Johnson has presented himself as a friend to the county’s working class. Johnson says he helped organize the 2012 teacher’s strike and has called for Cook County to implement a “head tax” on corporations that have more than 50 employees. Those taxes, he said, would be reduced or eliminated if the companies hired workers from “in need” neighborhoods.
Johnson has attacked Boykin from the left. He has accused Boykin of acting more like a Republican than a Democrat when it comes to governing and working for the interests of average Chicagoans. Johnson has also been critical of Boykin for calling for U.N. peacekeeping troops to patrol communities as a response to gun violence.
In the final days of the campaign, a Republican-allied trade group, the Illinois Manufacturers Association, has contributed nearly $200,000 to Boykin through its JOBS PAC, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.
“He’s a Republican, so Republicans are coming to his defense. He’s decided to take off his sheep’s clothing,” Johnson told the Sun-Times’ Mark Brown.
Boykin, in return, has accused Johnson of lying in his attacks and has said his challenger doesn’t understand the role of county government. He has also said he believes Johnson will be beholden to the unions who have contributed heavily to his campaign.
Both candidates have also been soliciting endorsements from newspapers, community organizations, unions and elected officials.
There are many other local races on Tuesday’s ballot including the hotly contested Cook County assessor’s race, as well as the 7th District congressional contest pitting Congressman Davis against challenger Anthony Clark.