Matthew Podgorski: 2022 candidate for Cook County Board District 9
Occupation: Director of Logistics
Previous offices held: None
Q: Why are you running for this office, whether for reelection or election for the first time? Is there a particular issue that motivates you? If so, what?
A: As a lifelong Cook County resident, I've seen our neighborhoods become increasingly unsafe, unaffordable, and unlivable. It's unacceptable.
Our county's residents pay some of the highest property and sales taxes in the country, yet the county is increasingly dangerous and dysfunctional -- undermined by misguided leadership.
Cook County commissioners have a duty to lead better and steward county operations, including its core functions of public safety.
Q: Cook County was alone in the six-county Chicago area to require proof of vaccination against COVID-19 to enter restaurants, bars and other establishments earlier this year. Did you agree with that decision, and would you support reimposing that requirement should the region face another surge in infections?
A: Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle grossly overstepped her executive authority with this sweeping mandate, and the county board could have and should have intervened.
There already was abundant evidence that the COVID-19 omicron variant was more contagious but far less harmful than previous variants. The fact that Preckwinkle announced the mandate but held off enforcing it until after the busy holiday season further proves that it was more about pleasing her political base than science or safety.
The real effect was to further divide our residents and business owners, erode individual civil liberties and personal choice, and hurt Cook County businesses and employees economically for months or years to come.
COVID-19 shots and boosters are readily available for those who need or want them. I do not support a county mandate -- especially one that is made by executive order.
Q: Did the county do enough to support businesses negatively impacted by the pandemic? If yes, please name one specific program you supported that did that. If no, please name one specific action the county could have taken to help.
A: The pandemic was bad, but county decisions in response to it made it worse, on balance. Granted, county decisions mirrored those of Chicago and the state of Illinois. But it's becoming clearer as time goes on that harsh lockdown policies made a negligible difference in infection, hospitalization, and mortality rates compared to those parts of the U.S. that largely remained open.
In the end, individuals and businesses -- who were already having a hard time surviving and thriving -- just got another reason to leave Cook County.
The county could have done more to focus its protection efforts on older, sicker populations, and those living in congregant care, and left the rest of society largely alone. The county's public health department could have and should have put out guidance based on new information of the virus, without imposing mandates that often times lacked common sense and violated constitutional rights and due process protections.
Q: There's been a concerted effort within the county's criminal justice system to incarcerate fewer pretrial defendants in the county jail. Some, particularly in the suburbs, blame this for a rise in crime. Do you support these policies? If not, what would you suggest instead?
A: The county jail is overusing its electronic monitoring system, which has put our communities, crime victims, and witnesses at risk. Too many violent offenders have been released only to continue to recommit other violent crimes and/or create problems while they await trial.
Violent crime has spread from just a few predictable problem areas now into city neighborhoods and suburbs that never before had concerns of serious criminal activity.
Cook County Commissioners can and should hold State's Attorney Kim Foxx accountable for her operations and any failures to help keep our communities safe. As commissioner, I will advocate to equip our sheriff's deputies and municipal police departments with the crime fighting tools and support they need.
Q: In July 2020, the county board passed a resolution that called for, in part, the county to "redirect funds from policing and incarceration to public services not administered by law enforcement." Did or do you support this measure and the philosophy behind it? Why or why not?
A: The resolution was prompted by the George Floyd tragedy, but the result effectively threw gasoline on an already raging fire in Cook County. Rather than condemning the riots and assaults that were occurring in real time against innocent people and property -- the county board turned its sights on cops! These are the very individuals who sacrifice their own lives, livelihoods, and families to hold the line between safety and chaos.
Virtually every county resident and business -- regardless of its racial or economic status -- suffers deeply if we are living and moving under constant threat of violence. Several other worthy goals of the resolution are undermined if law enforcement doesn't have the staffing or tools it needs to keep the peace.
And finally, many of the economic and social problems cited by the resolution (high cost of housing, lack of job opportunities, etc.) continue to get worse by many of the county's own policies that drive private investment elsewhere.
Q: Some elected officials have proposed a "gas-tax holiday" to ease the burden of rising gasoline prices on county residents. Would you support such a proposal for Cook County? Why or why not?
A: Cook County sales and property taxes are the prime reasons why gas is so expensive here. No wonder border town gas stations and storefronts advertise "No Cook County Taxes!"
The county charges a flat, per gallon fuel tax, and it charges a percentage-based sales tax, as well -- among the highest in the country. Soaring prices at the pump means local and state governments are getting an unexpected windfall of sales tax revenue -- all at consumer expense.
Like housing and food, gas is an essential purchase for most families living and working in Cook County. We should permanently eliminate the percentage-based tax structures, and stick to a flat, per gallon rate.