The last time Cook County Board President Todd Stroger came to Palatine in an official capacity, he faced a hostile audience irate at the sales tax hike that was about to take effect.
The 150 or so residents who attended Wednesday's candidate forum proved much more mellow. They politely clapped for the beleaguered leader in between audible chuckles as he defended county practices with statements such as "I don't want to have any funny business under my watch."
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The nonpartisan forum at Hotel Indigo, which featured all candidates running for county board president in the Feb. 2 primary except for one Republican, was put on by the United Republicans of Palatine Township, Palatine Township Democrats and the independent Northwest Political Coalition.
One of the questions most suited to the Northwest suburbs related to how candidates, if elected, would help businesses succeed in light of a higher sales tax rate than their neighboring counties.
Democratic Chicago Alderman Toni Preckwinkle said she'd work to immediately roll back the remaining half-percentage-point increase in the sales tax imposed last year and seek out grants. She said grants and philanthropy account for one-third of the city of Chicago's budget and only 5 percent of the county's.
"It's devastating for our working families to have the highest sales tax in the country ... it's very bad for our businesses," Preckwinkle said.
Democrat Terrence O'Brien, president of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District, Republican John Garrido and Green Party candidate Thomas Tresser agreed they would work to immediately repeal the increase. Cook County Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown said she would "strategically lower the sales tax while replacing it with nontax revenue" but gave no time frame. Stroger responded that the county consistently helps businesses expand and move and pointed out that the state's take from the sales tax is much larger than the county's.
A question that drew laughter and seemed directed at Stroger asked whether candidates would hire contractors related to them. Stroger, who has taken heat for putting relatives on the county payroll, said that he's not going to unfairly treat qualified people he knows.
Afterward, Stroger said he expected a lack of support from certain audience members but came to Palatine to relay the services provided by the county.
"I don't shy away from crowds who just need a little bit more information," he said.