The Cook County Democratic Party drew heavy criticism this week after it snubbed several Black candidates in favor of white opponents running for local and state positions in the June 2022 primary.
Headed by Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, the Party on December 14 endorsed incumbent Chris Kaegi for Cook County Tax Assessor and Alexi Giannoulias for Illinois Secretary of State, a position held by a Black official since 1998.
Several Black candidates are running for those positions but did not receive the endorsement from a group chaired by a Black woman. They include Aldermen Pat Dowell (3rd Ward) and David Moore (17th Ward). They are running for Illinois Secretary of State after longtime incumbent Jesse White announced earlier this year that he will not seek re-election after serving five terms. City Clerk Anna Valencia is also running for Illinois Secretary of State.
All three said they will remain in the race despite not having the endorsement of the Cook County Democratic Party.
Kari Steele, president of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (MWRD), is running against Kaegi for Cook County Tax Assessor but did not get the Cook County Democrats’ endorsement.
Amid heavy criticism, Cook County Democratic Party Chairperson Toni Preckwinkle said in a statement, “We are proud to present this diverse, accomplished slate of candidates as we ramp up for campaign season as a strong, united party organization. This is a slate that represents the values of our party, and we look forward to working hard to elect Democrats up and down the ballot in Cook County next year.” The decision drew immediate backlash from Chicago’s Black community, which questioned why the organization endorsed two white men with spotty backgrounds over qualified Black candidates who remained loyal to the Cook County Democratic Party over the years. Some say the endorsements show that the Party remains a political machine that favors the politically well-connected white political establishment. They point to Giannoulias’ huge political contributions that have put him well ahead of Alderman Dowell and Alderman Moore and Valencia.
Listeners on WVON’s Perri Small show blasted the endorsement. Many callers said the Cook County Democratic Party for years did not represent Black voters. Former State Representative Ken Dunkin, who was ousted at the polls in 2016 after he opposed then-House Speaker Mike Madigan on a bill, said politicians who have supported the political establishment speak out against it only when they themselves are betrayed by the Democratic Party.
“Here it is now that the chickens are finally coming home to roost. And people are seeing that everything is not fair in love and definitely not politics. And so, what Black people in Chicago must do and a must-see is to look at the policies and the candidate and the party moreso on every damn thing.”
Endorsements from the Cook County Democratic Party proved ineffective over the years as it endorsed candidates to unseat former Cook County Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown, whom Black voters helped re-elect five times as she was constantly attacked with negative stories in Chicago’s news media.
In the 2016 Democratic Primary, she easily beat Alderman Michelle Harris, who received the Party’s endorsement as Brown was being investigated by the feds for the sale of a building that she and her husband owned. Many Black voters connected well with Brown and grew disillusioned with the Cook County Democratic Party, which has often been viewed as out of touch with the political interests and agenda of Blacks in Cook County.
While viewed as a key endorsement, the Cook County Democratic Party over the years has lost its power over voters at the polls.
Steele, whom Black voters have re-elected six times as a member of the MWRD, has the potential to draw the same support against Kaegi without the endorsement of the Cook County Democratic Party. She has received endorsements from several high-profile Democrats, including Cook County Clerk Karen Yarbrough, as well as several building trades groups.
In the race for Secretary of State, incumbent Jesse White has yet to endorse either candidate but in the past has endorsed candidates who are heavily supported by the political establishment.
During the slating process, candidates presented their campaign platform to the 80 Cook County committee people, who then vote on recommendations for endorsement. To win an endorsement, a candidate must receive 51 percent of a weighted vote. Giannoulias reportedly received 55 percent.
There were also reports that Dowell, Moore and Valencia lobbied to have the Party not endorse anyone.
After winning the endorsement, Giannoulias in a statement said he received support from “diverse Democratic voices—which include a wide array of progressives and moderates” as a sign of his “broad-based coalition of support that we’ve received from across the state.”
With hefty donations and many endorsements, Giannoulias is viewed as the front runner in the race for Secretary of State. But during the slating process Tuesday, December 14, Dowell took a swipe at Giannoulias, a Greek resident who in 2014 supported Republican candidate Tom Cross for State Treasurer, which Giannoulias served from 2007 to 2011. Cross lost in a tight race to Democratic candidate Mike Frerichs in the general election.
“It is crucial that we elect a Democrat as the next Secretary of State,” Dowell said in a statement. “We cannot go back to the tragedy and corruption that occurred when Republicans ran the office. To succeed, we must have a nominee who appeals to the people who vote Democratic, namely women and, more precisely, African American women. Winning elections is not rocket science. It is about numbers and who can connect with voters.”
The Crusader reached out to Alderman Moore early Wednesday afternoon, December 15, but a spokesperson said he was at a City Council meeting and unavailable for comment. His political strategist, Delmarie Cobb, emailed a press release titled “DAVID MOORE IS FOLLOWING IN JESSE WHITE’S FOOTSTEPS IN SUPPORT OF YOUTH.” The release said Moore joined White at a martial arts fundraising event in Matteson at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
The Crusader was unable to reach Steele for comment by press time Wednesday for the print edition.
Questions remain whether Kaegi is still an electable candidate after a Sun-Times investigation in June exposed major errors in the tax office’s Senior Citizens Assessment Freeze Homestead Exemption program.
The Sun-Times reported Kaegi’s office incorrectly calculated the value of the senior assessment freeze for many of the 144,904 homeowners 65 or older receiving the tax break. Senior freezes had been granted in some cases to businesses, which aren’t eligible, and property assessments had been frozen based on the value of buildings that had been torn down years before. The problem was later corrected, but it caused delays in sending out property tax bills.
A Crain’s Chicago Business investigation revealed that Kaegi’s office undervalued 35 buildings downtown, on the Near West Side and in Lincoln Park.
In his 2018 campaign, Kaegi vowed to shake up the Assessor’s Office, arguing that Joe Berrios, who he beat at the polls, was undervaluing big commercial properties, unfairly pushing more of the county’s property tax burden onto homeowners, many of whom were poor Black and Latino residents.
Tom Dart, who is running for a fifth term as Cook County Sheriff, also bested challengers Carmen Navarro Gercone, a former Sheriff’s Office deputy superintendent currently serving as an executive clerk for court operations and administration for Clerk of the Circuit Court Iris Martinez; Noland Rivera, a veteran of the Chicago Police Department; and LaTonya Ruffin, a longtime deputy sheriff.
Other Democrats who received the party’s support ahead of the June 2022 primary include Governor J.B. Pritzker and Lt. Governor Juliana Stratton; U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth; Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart; and Alderman George Cardenas (12th) in his fight to oust sitting Cook County Board of Review Commissioner Tammy Wendt.