A Cook in Congress

08/08/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Shawn Healy Civic Learning Scholar, McCormick Foundation Civics Program

The field for Cook County Board President is growing by the day. On Monday, seven term Congressman Danny Davis (D-Chicago) said that in "all likelihood" he would enter the Democratic primary set for next February. Fourth Ward Alderwoman Toni Preckwinkle has already declared, and Cook County Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown is mulling a bid. Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart, County Commissioner Larry Suffredin, and County Assessor James Houlihan are also contemplating running.

In the background is current President Todd Stroger, who entered office through the back door when he was slated to replace his father who suffered a stroke days before the primary, yet concealed his condition and prevailed despite a strong challenge from primary opponent Forest Claypool. He would go on to beat Republican challenger and current Commissioner Tony Peraica decisively in the November 2006 general election.

Stroger has since presided over a sales tax increase that elevated Cook County's share to the largest in the nation and beat back successive attempts to repeal it, all along feeding a bloated budget. Nepotism remains the rule of the day as the Stroger kin fills more than 20 county offices, drawing combined salaries in excess of $2 million annually. Stroger intends to seek reelection, but it's hard to see him weathering an ultra-competitive primary with such shaky credentials.

Just a month ago, the field appeared set with Claypool expected to take on Stroger, while former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas strategized a return to his former haunts, this time as a Republican candidate for Cook County Board President. Within weeks of one another, Vallas said he would remain in New Orleans to continue his work rebuilding the post-Katrina public school system, and Claypool announced that he would leave elected office altogether.

The door left ajar, the field expanded rapidly.

Preckwinkle, an independent alderwoman representing Chicago's South Side since 1991, has repeatedly taken on Mayor Daley over issues ranging from affordable housing, diversity, corruption, and the city's 2016 Olympic bid.

Brown has served as County Clerk since 2000, winning reelection in 2008 despite charges that she fundraised through her staff and used them for campaign functions. She worked previously as Auditor for the Chicago Transit Authority from 1991 to 2000.

Davis was a West Side alderman for eleven years, then a member of the Cook County Board of Commissioners for six before running successfully for the Seventh Congressional District seat in 1996. He has solid roots in city politics, serving on former Mayor Harold Washington's campaign committee and transition team in 1983, and running against Mayor Daley in the 1991 primary.

Chicago is, of course, not immune from racial politics, and with three formidable African-American contenders set to take on the current black incumbent, the door may be open for a caucasian candidate who could capture the white ethnic and lakefront liberal vote. Should Suffredin, Dart, and Houlihan all decide to take the plunge, then all bets are off. Moreover, the cache of a sitting congressman with deep roots in city and county politics along with a solid base on the West Side cannot be underestimated.

Before long, we'll have a better idea of the scope of the field. Petitions will be circulated starting next month. Add the statewide and national races to the mix, and 2010 promises to be a topsy turvy year for local politicos.