The most vociferous advocate for Black self-interests in the United States, relentless in his determination to the answer to the question, "What's in it for the Black People?" And if they don't like it, "You can tell 'em, Maze Said!"
This week it was alleged the Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle was behind Cook County Commissioner Peter Silvestri’s attempt to change the position of Clerk of the Circuit Court from elected to appointed. While the move would have affected Clerk Brown for the short-term, in the long-term it would have limited voter participation and decreased elected opportunities for aspiring future politicians. Billed as a cost saving measure by Silvestri and applauded by Commissioner Larry Sufferdin, the resolution would have consolidated power for Preckwinkle, who is admittedly at the end of her political career, which brings me to today’s blog topic:
Should we trust politicians at the end of their careers with our future? In other words, why should a generation about to take the reigns of power cooperate with a generation determined to hold on to that same power? Do political appointments make the appointees loyal to their constituents or Party bosses? Do you find it odd that progressive leaders are calling for an elected school board while their champion is simultaneous trying to increase her ability to appoint decision makers?
With a hastily released statement and a suspension of the rules, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and Commissioner Peter Silvestri’s attempt to strip Cook County Clerk of the Circuit Court Dorothy Brown of her position went down in flames. Community activists, Black businessmen, and seniors descended on the May 11, 2016 Cook County Board meeting to let the Cook County Board of Commissioners exactly how they felt about Silvestri’s resolution.
The meeting attendees were vociferous in their opposition to any attempts to disenfranchise Black voters in Cook County. The resolution, sponsored by Elmwood Park Republican Commissioner Peter Silvestri,was billed as a cost cutting measure, not meant directly to target Clerk Brown. Commissioners who asked to remain off the record acknowledged that Silvestri was acting at the behest of County Board President Preckwinkle, who has made no secret of her disdain of Clerk Brown, even going as far as having her removed from the Democratic Party slate of endorsed candidates. Observers in the audience labeled the attack petty, as some even began whispering, “Toni Pettywinkle.”
The tension continued to mount prior to the vote and it was apparent that many of the Commissioner were nervous about taking such a the vote. Shortly afterwards, Reverend Leslie Sanders, community outreach specialists delivered a hastily worded statement placing responsibility for the resolution in the hands of the Chief Judge Timothy Evans and Commissioner Silvestri. The statement read as such:
The proposal that the Chief Judge appoint the Clerk of the Circuit Court was initiated by Commissioner Silvestri, and not by my office. I was not informed in advance of Commissioner Silvestri’s intention to introduce this resolution. I am neither endorsing nor promoting it, and I met with and informed Circuit Court Clerk Brown of my position. The resolution will go to a Board committee for discussion and, in any case, this is not a change the County Board could implement on its own, but rather would need approval from the state Legislature.
Community leaders refused to accept the statement and demanded that “Pettywinkle” as they referred to her, oppose the resolution. After the statement was distributed, the crowd became even more unsettled and became raucous, as Dorothy Brown sat quietly watching the who thing unfold.
When Preckwinkle took the podium she gave the floor to Cook County Commissioner John Daley, who immediately moved to suspended the rules, at which point (click to watch video) Silvestri announced that he was holding the resolution in committee, at which point the crowd erupted with applause. Cook County Board Commissioners, who often operate in anonymity were put on notice that they would be receiving the same scrutiny as the Chicago City Council, as shouts of “What’s in it for the Black People?” rang out from the audience.
Coincidentally, on the same day, the Cook County Board also passed a $375 million dollar bond deal to finance the redevelopment of the old Cook County Hospital. Considering the County is using the same Black contractors who have been accused of leaving the Black community out the last time the County Hospital was rebuilt, that scrutiny is warranted and will be intense. Just listening to the audience, it does not appear that Target Group and Rite-Way Construction will be enough to satisfactorily answer the question, “What’s in it for the Black People?”
While Silvestri sponsored the ordinance and maintains it’s not “personal,” insiders say Silvestri does not make a move without Preckwinkle’s approval, and Preckwinkle’s disdain for Brown is no secret. Preckwinkle led the charge to have Brown dumped by the Democratic Party, and when she couldn’t defeat her at the ballot box, she’s apparently decided to go the legislative route, hoping to cash in on her growing political clout.
Brown did not help matters by requesting a raise earlier this week. While some of her colleagues agreed Brown’s points were valid, they also agreed the timing was not good. In today’s toxic political environment, no politician wants to tbe on record voting for a raise, especially another politician’s raise, so Brown’s proposal was dead on arrival. Preckwinkle, apparently seeing that as another opportunity to attack her nemesis, allowed Silvestri to float the resolution of changing the position from elected to appointed.
In a county, city, and state with a reputation for corruption and cronyism, any attempt to place more decision-making power in the hands of politicians is sure to be met with fierce resistance by the local activist community, and like clockwork, activists are organizing a protest for tomorrow’s Cook County Board meeting. Even if the resolution passes, it must be approved by the Illinois General Assembly, which is dominated by the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus. Black caucus members have already signaled they would oppose any such legislation, as the have in the past, especially when it limits opportunities for elected advancement.
Understanding all of those dynamics, I had to wonder why would the Cook County Board President allow such an outrageous resolution to see the light of day, knowing the potential outrage it would cause, particularly among the activist community? I mean I understand using Silvestri to keep her hand hidden, but why such a bold move against another Black woman? So I did some calling around, and while I expected to discuss the Brown resolution I was pointed to this from today’s Finance Committee Meeting:
To pay the costs of the Refunding, the Bonds shall be issued from time to time in one or more Series, all as may be determined by the Chief Financial Officer, provided that the aggregate principal amount of any Bonds issued pursuant to this Ordinance shall not exceed $375,000,000. The Bonds shall be designated substantially as “General Obligation Refunding Bonds, Series 2016,” with such additions or modifications as shall be determined to be necessary by the Chief Financial Officer at the time of the sale of the Bonds.
The Cook County Board will be authorizing $375 MILLION DOLLARS in bonds, coincidentally on the same day we have to save Dorothy Brown? Now don’t get me wrong, I think the bonds will go for a great cause, the redevelopment of the of Cook County Hospital. I think it will be an awesome project, and I will be glad when it is rebuilt. I love Chicago and I think our city is becoming more dynamic everyday. But with $375 MILLION on the line, I had to ask…“What’s in it for the Black People?”
What I found out was troubling. I found out that some commissioners actually asked, “What’s in it for the Black People?” They got a community benefits agreement, but it was rushed. They asked WHO would get the contracts and some of the same old characters who sold their contracts last time they rebuilt Cook County Hospital were back representing Black business again. Who is ensuring that the Black people participate in the contracts and job opportunities? You guessed it, the same company that had Black people doing less than 5% of the business in the city of Chicago. Which one of them has helped create new economic opportunities for the Black community? You don’t know? Neither did they, so coincidentally the Dorothy Brown issue comes up on the same day as they have to answer the question regarding that $375 million bond vote. May 11th Cook County Board Meeting.
The reality is Dorothy Brown isn’t going anywhere, but that $375 million dollars is…in a cloud of smoke!
On October 15, 2015 reports of a “raid” on the home of Cook County Clerk of the Circuit Court Dorothy Brown surfaced. Brown acknowledged that federal agents issued a subpoena for her county issued cell phone, but maintains that was the extent of her interaction with federal agents. Brown claimed that reports of a full out “raid” were exaggerated. Nonetheless, those reports were enough to launch a string of events that led to the leaders of the Cook County Democratic Party rescinding its endorsement of Brown, and switching to powerful Rules Committee Chairman, 8th Ward Alderman Michelle Harris.
The string of events leading up to Brown’s stunning downfall were seemingly quite innocuous by Cook County standards, a county with a reputation of having elected officials that often find themselves the targets of “investigations.” In fact with the proliferation of targeted “investigations” that seem to disproportionately focus on Black politicians, many of the Black committeemen quietly expressed concern that it was setting a very low bar for future endorsement reversals.
When Brown entered the Erie Café in the odds seemed very unfavorable for her keeping the Democratic Party endorsement. Democratic staffers were hurriedly preparing new packets of petitions to be distributed to committeemen for Cook County Recorder of Deeds Karen Yarborough. Conspicuously absent was the name of Dorothy Brown who had previously been listed with Yarborough, as is commonly the practice of the Democratic Party to make the collection of signatures for endorsed candidates easier.
As Brown delivered an impassioned speech to remain the Party’s endorsed candidate, there was a quiet buzz in the room, signaling that Brown’s speech was falling on deaf ears. Brown, in her best attempt to use her law degree suggested that the Democratic Party had entered into a “contract” when they accepted and cashed her $25,000 campaign check. After Brown delivered what was to be her swan song, the committeemen went into executive session, and after some discussion returned with the decision that Brown’s endorsement had officially been rescinded, opening the doors for reconsideration of the endorsement.
As the candidates came before the committeemen one by one, including Brown, Attorney Jacob Meister, former Cease Fire Director Tio Hardiman, and Alderman Michelle Harris, it was clear that Harris had the overwhelming support of the Democratic Party leaders. After Harris presented her case, party leaders went back into executive session, and within a span of 90 minutes, the Democratic Party had made an about face, Dorothy Brown was out and the 8th Ward powerhouse Michelle Harris was in.
Now the pressure is on Party leaders to deliver for Harris, who must expand her influence beyond the boundaries of the 8th Ward throughout all of Cook County.
While Cook County is still considered ground zero of local politics, Harris will have to rely on a Party organization that is shadow of it’s former self. There was a time when county endorsed candidates could rely on a disciplined and powerful Democratic “Machine” to deliver votes en masse, but a look at the last two election cycles demonstrates the uphill battle Harris faces getting committeemen to deliver.
For instance, Cook County Democratic Party Chairman Joe Berrios lost two of his most trusted allies in back to back independent challenges. First Berrios’ daughter Maria “Toni” Berrios lost to upstart Will Guzzardi in a state representative contest. Then Berrios lost his Alderman Ray Suarez to independent challenger Millagros “Milly” Santiago. Santiago, who is rumored to be mulling a challenge to Berrios as Ward Committeeman presents Berrios with a unique challenge if he hopes to remain relevant in party politics. If Santiago wins, Berrios would be forced to resign as Party Chairman. Under those circumstances, Harris would take a back seat to Berrios’ own need for self-preservation.
Harris will also count on the support of Illinois Speaker of the House and Democratic Party of Illinois Chairman Mike Madigan, who stands to lose the most because of the number of employees he is rumored control in the Cook County Clerk’s office. By abandoning Brown, many of Madigan’s highest earning captains and lieutenants find themselves in a precarious position, because they work in Shakman-exempt positions, meaning they can be hired and fired based on political considerations.
In fact, until last weeks decision, Brown’s campaign was being run by Fred Moody, one of the politically famous Madigan twin operatives that are deployed to ensure the Speaker’s will is imposed wherever they land. Because Clerk’s office is one of the last bastions of patronage and boasts the highest number of positions that pay in upper five and six figure salaries, Madigan has taken particular interest in the office, making his flip on Dorothy Brown curious to say the least. Compound that with the fact that Madigan is infamous for not defending Black candidates, will be facing a number of challenges for his members from Governor Bruce Rauner, and is pushing current City Clerk Susana Mendoza for State Comptroller makes Harris’ campaign an after-thought.
And rescinding Brown’s nomination and endorsing Harris does not necessarily mean Brown is not running. Brown began her political career outside of the Regular Democratic Organization in Black churches, and based on her Facebook posts featuring her in photos with mega church Pastor Bill Winston, that’s where she looks to return.
If Brown is able to collect the necessary signatures, that will place, Brown, Harris, and Tio Hardiman, three Black candidates in a race against Jacob Meister, a White, gay, Jewish attorney. This fact was not missed by a few White and Latino North Side Committeemen who are openly supporting Meister, in spite of the Party’s endorsement, and were palpably giddy when Harris’ endorsement was announced.
For Alderman Harris to be successful in her historic run for Clerk of the Circuit Court, she will need to rely on the relationships and experience of her own 8th Ward Democratic Organization. The 8th Ward has been the epicenter of Black power politics on the South Side since the deceased Cook County Board Chairman John Stroger made it that way from the 70’s to the present day. Win or lose the Clerk’s race, as Chairman of the Chicago City Council’s Committee on Rules, Alderman Michelle Harris be influential for years to come, but if she wants to win this one it will require more than the endorsement of Party leaders.