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Not Just Race -- Ethics up for Vote

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This column originally appeared in the "Chicago Journal."

In the last election, the first two viable Latino candidates in Chicago's history, Gery Chico and Miguel del Valle, made a strong race for mayor. Recently, new Latino aldermen and county commissioners like Jesus Garcia have been elected and moved important legislation forward.

In the ward remap battle, Latinos successfully remapped the wards to gain seats in the City Council. But not all Latino empowerment is positive.

For instance, Joe Berrios is the first Latino boss of the Cook County Democratic Party. He is also county assessor and a throwback to the bad old days of Assessor Parky Cullerton -- nepotism, patronage, corruption and machine politics.

For progressives, two important races are shaping up. One is the second run of the very attractive young progressive Latino candidate, Rudy Lozano. Lozano came within a few votes of defeating veteran State Rep. Dan Burke in the 2010 election. He is running this time in the newly remapped 21st legislative district against Latina former journalist Silvana Tabares. She is supported by machine Aldermen Ed Burke, George Cardenas, Michael Zalewski and Speaker Mike Madigan.

If Lozano, who narrowly lost last time, wins the district, which runs from Soiuthwest side Chicago communities like Little Village into suburbs like Stickney, voters will be electing a strong, new progressive voice in Springfield. That is why he is endorsed by County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, Congressman Luis Gutierrez, and the unions such as the AFL-CIO.

Beyond the issues of jobs, education and public safety, electing a new progressive voice to the legislature is key. Lozano will fight for broader issues of access and equity. He will be part of the next generation of leaders who will unite the city and the suburbs in overthrowing the machine and antiquated government.

At an even higher level, there is the grand battle between Ald. Rick Munoz and Dorothy Brown, the black incumbent clerk of the Circuit Court. Munoz, with Ald. Joe Moore and then-Ald. Toni Preckwinkle, has led the progressive or Independent voting bloc in the Chicago City Council during the last of Daley years and the first years of Emanuel's reign.

At one level, this is a simple contest between who can best provide sound management in the county courts. This is not trivial in an office of over 2,000 employees and a budget of $100 million. In filing current court of documents under Clerk Brown, attorneys are frequently given carbon paper to make copies. They cannot file documents by computer like most modern court systems. The clerk also invested $50 million in taxpayer funds in banks that were at risk of collapse but gave political contributions to Dorothy Brown. On the efficiency level, there is no doubt that Munoz would do better.

More importantly, Dorothy Brown is ethically challenged. There are not enough words in this column to describe the scandals in the office. I detail them in our "Anti-Corruption Report No. 3" at chicagopolitics.uic.edu. Her many conflicts of interest include accepting gifts and campaign contributions from employees directly under her control, and the famous "Blue Jeans Days" in which employees can dress down on Fridays if they contribute to unnamed and unknown charities. Then there is the over use of a driver, "security officer," and county car for personal errands. As political strategist Don Rose has written, she "turned out to be less than competent, venal, ethically challenged and an overly ambitious politician."

Rick Munoz, on the other hand, has been endorsed by ethics reform leaders such as former City Inspector General David Hoffman who said of him, "Rick Munoz has long been a truly independent voice of reform, especially during a time when it was extremely challenging to be independent." So the choice between a hack incumbent or a reformer would seem to be an easy one.

Both Dorothy Brown and Rick Munoz are charismatic. But they represent the divide of old and new politics. Dorothy represents the past and Rick represents a better, more positive future. A vote for Munoz (and Lozano for those who live in his district), will empower not only Latinos but all of us.