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Toni Preckwinkle Bites the Bullet

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Buffeted by criticism, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle has bitten the bullet and dumped her ammunition tax plan.

Preckwinkle's "violence tax" generated controversy almost immediately upon its roll-out from more conservative quarters of Cook County, including white ethic wards in Chicago-despite the fact that hand guns are theoretically illegal in Chicago.

The reality is different.

A few weeks ago, the chatter among the older, white males hanging out at Pete's Auto Repair, located in Alderman Marge Laurino's 39th Ward, was about Preckwinkle's ammunition and gun tax.

"That Periwinkle, or whatever her name is, I heard she wants a $5 tax on each bullet I buy! Do you know how much that b*ll***t is going to cost me?" steamed Steve, 61, a retired carpenter who lives in Laurino's ward. "She's crazy!"

That was probably the most polite comment that I heard while waiting, anxiously, for my oil change to be finished.

The comment also reflected some misunderstanding out in voter land, too. Preckwinkle proposed a .05¢ per bullet tax, not $5. But Steve had "heard" "$5" and could not be dissuaded of the nickel reality or drained of his anger.

He was also unrepentant regarding the possession of a firearm within Chicago city limits.

"I gotta protect my house and my wife," said Steve.

Last week, Cook County Commissioner John Fritchey (D-Chicago), who undoubtedly smelled political trouble brewing with Preckwinkle's plan, rolled out his own anti-gun violence plan that aimed to substitute for both the 05¢ per bullet and the $25 per firearm tax.

"I've never believed that we can or should tax our way out of all of our problems," said Fritchey.

Fritchey's proposal, which included a new anti-violence initiative, a new Gun Court, and a new anti-straw purchase plan, was endorsed by the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence.

"We applaud Commissioner Fritchey on this comprehensive and aggressive approach to help curb the violence that has hit Cook County so hard this year," said Colleen Daley, the group's Executive Director.

Cook County Commissioner Larry Suffredin (D-Evanston) said, however, during a WBEZ interview on Monday, that he opposed Fritchey's plan, but also expressed doubt about the bullet tax being approved by the board.

On Wednesday Preckwinkle gave up.

At an early morning press conference, Preckwinkle dropped the bullet tax plan for next year's Cook County budget.

Instead, Preckwinkle agreed to provide $2 million in grants to non-profit organizations with proven experience in violence prevention. At least $100,000 of the funding will be dedicated to education and enforcement efforts aimed at stemming "straw purchases" -- guns that are purchased legally but later are found in gangbangers' possession.

An advisory committee will oversee the grant approvals.

Additionally, the advisory committee also will study existing gun court models with the intention of securing implementation by July 1, 2013.

However, the gun tax proposal remains in place. It is expected to raise $600,000 in 2013.

Fritchey is happy with the deal.

"I am grateful and appreciative that we were able to ... to arrive at this compromise," said Fritchey.

Whether Steve will be mollified that remains to be seen.

davidormsby@davidormsby.com