Category: County Elections

This November, Voters to Decide on Whether to Keep the Cook County Recorder’s Office

Karen Yarbrough Photo

Recorder of Deeds Karen Yarbrough. The Cook County Board of Commissioners has approved a measure that would allow voters to decide on whether or not the county should fold the office into the clerk’s office. 

Friday, June 1, 2016 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews || @village_free || UPDATED: 6:25 p.m.

At a June 29 regular meeting, the Cook County Board of Commissioners voted 10-5 to attempt to do something that, in Illinois, is almost unthinkable — consolidate two government bodies into one, a move that proponents of the merger say will save taxpayers money and enhance services.

The board’s vote allows the referendum question of whether or not the recorder of deeds office should be submerged within the county clerk’s office, currently occupied by David Orr, to be put on the Nov. 8 ballot for voters to decide on the issue.

The mere discussion of consolidating the recorder’s office prompted Cook County Commissioner Richard Boykin (1st), who voted against the measure — all five negative votes came from African-American board members — to channel the voice of his constituents, who he said believe the measure “is an all-out attack on black elected officials.”

“It’s Dorothy Brown last month,” Boykin said, referencing a failed attempt by Commissioner Peter Silvestri (9th) to make the Circuit Court clerk’s office an appointed post, “and it’s Karen Yarbrough this month, and they happen to be two black women officeholders.”

Boykin, whose district includes Maywood, Bellwood, Broadview, Melrose Park and other western suburbs, was elected with the support of Yarbrough — who, in her role as Proviso Township Democratic Committeeman, endorsed the first-term commissioner in his 2015 bid for the county board seat.

The commissioner’s comments prompted Commissioner John Fritchey (12th), who sponsored the measure, to push-back by touting his legislative record.

“I will put my record on work I’ve done in the African-American community against almost anybody — white, brown or black,” Fritchey was quoted as saying by the Chicago Tribune. “This is about reforming government.”

But even the Tribune had to point out the racial reverberations of Fritchey’s legislation, with the paper noting that an African-American has held the recorder’s office since 1988, when it was filled by Carol Moseley Braun, who was succeeded by Jesse White.

And the recorder’s office isn’t “the only office that has been viewed as belonging to someone of a certain color or race,” the Tribune notes. “The County Board presidency now held by [Preckwinkle] is considered by many Cook County Democrats to be a ‘black seat,’ and the city treasurer’s office viewed much the same way.

“The city clerk’s office has been occupied by Latinos for years, while the county clerk’s office has long been held by whites, including Orr, who applauded the referendum.”

Since 1999, the recorder’s seat has been occupied by a Maywoodian. Eugene Moore held the seat until 2012, when he retired. Yarbrough was elected his successor and is likely to coast to another term.

If voters approve the referendum question, which is binding, the recorder’s office will be consolidated into the clerk’s office by 2020.

Preckwinkle and other county board members who support the consolidation claim that it could translate into enhanced administrative efficiency and cost-savings of at least $800,000 a year. The clerk’s and recorder’s offices are both responsible for maintaining records and administering aspects of the property tax.

The clerk handles birth and death certificates, and the county’s legislative records; calculates property tax rates; facilitates suburban elections. The recorder maintains records of property ownership, real estate transfer taxes and tax liens, according to the Tribune. According to Greg Hinz of Crain’s, the clerk’s office has a $35 million budget while the recorder’s office has a $13 million budget.

Yarbrough’s office disputes the potential cost-savings of the merger that’s touted by its supporters. And the recorder defended her job performance, particularly in the areas of mortgage fraud prevention and office automation.

“My goal was to be the best recorder in the country,” Yarbrough said at the June 29 meeting. “And in the short term, I can boast and say I have.”

Hinz paraphrased Fritchey, who noted that the county’s attempt to eliminate the recorder’s office is the first time that it has attempted to do away with a government body since 1972, when the county coroner, an elected office, was turned into the medical examiner, an appointed office.

The Tribune noted that, “Most commissioners expect voters to approve the measure, something even Deputy Recorder Cedric Giles, an ardent defender of the boss, all but conceded even as he questioned the motives of those who would have the voters make the final call on the issue.”

Cook County, however, isn’t the only one making unprecedented attempts to consolidate governments. According to a July 1 Tribune report, DuPage County is looking to consolidate its clerk’s office and Election Commission. VFP

Correction: A previous version of this post included the wrong date of the Nov. 8, 2016 election. This post has since been updated. 

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Proviso Township Political Heavyweights Preparing To Mobilize For Boykin, Their ‘Candidate For The Suburbs’

PTDO Boykin

Thursday, March 13, 2014, MAYWOOD || By Michael Romain

Yesterday, at an early morning press conference that doubled as a caffeinated rally, an excited corps of politicians and party organizers gathered at the 17th and Madison headquarters of the Proviso Township Democratic Organization (PTDO) to collectively endorse Richard Boykin for First District Cook County Commissioner.

Mr. Boykin, an attorney, lobbyist and former chief-of-staff for Congressman Danny K. Davis, is running in a hotly contested campaign that has morphed into a three-way race. Last month, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle altered the dynamics of what many local political insiders had perceived as a face-off between Mr. Boykin and former 29th Ward Alderman and convicted felon Isaac “Ike” Carothers by endorsing 27-year-old attorney and Princeton alum Blake Sercye, an Austin native. Ronald Lawless, an education consultant, and Brenda Smith, a staffer for outgoing Commissioner Collins, are also in the race.

Since landing those two major endorsements, Mr. Sercye has also picked up the endorsement of Secretary of State Jesse White.  At the time the joint endorsement from the Mayor and Board President was announced, Boykin’s campaign team and political surrogates perceived it as a cynical attempt to bolster Carothers’s chances in the race by splitting the First District’s suburban vote, which Mr. Boykin desperately needs to counter the former alderman’s significant West Side support. 

With three of perhaps the biggest names in local, state and even national politics backing his candidacy, Mr. Sercye, a graduate of Fenwick High School in Oak Park, may be shaping up to be a political dark horse when election results are announced on March 18th–one who may pose a greater threat to Mr. Boykin’s prospects than those of Mr. Carothers.

That’s a reality which PTDO Committeewoman Karen Yarbrough seemed to understand well in a gesture of wholehearted support that didn’t come without its terms and conditions. Yesterday morning, her organization framed Mr. Boykin as the candidate of the suburbs, particularly those within Proviso Township.

In an effort to highlight the candidate’s suburban bona fides, former Maywood Mayor Donald Williams recounted his longtime relationship with Mr. Boykin, who once practiced law in an office on the same block as the PTDO headquarters.

“Richard was an attorney practicing in the Village of Maywood. He distinguished himself then, but I had no idea of [the accomplishments he would eventually achieve].”

Mr. Boykin, who is also an ordained minister at Rock of Ages Baptist Church in Maywood, may indeed be the candidate in the race with the deepest connections to Maywood, and thereby, Proviso Township.

But he’s also been under heavy scrutiny for receiving homestead exemptions on properties in two different counties, raising questions about whether or not he’s qualified to run in the First District. He may need to bolster that Maywood past now more than ever.

Boykin with Yarbrough and Welch
Boykin (middle) with Recorder Yarbrough (left) and Rep. Welch (right).

 “Richard Boykin is the only suburban candidate running in this race and we are suburbanites,” Mrs. Yarbrough said. “We want to have a voice in this race.”

Mrs. Yarbrough, the sitting Cook County Recorder of Deeds and wife of former Maywood Mayor Henderson Yarbrough, fully expects the suburban voice to echo rather loudly in the county government chambers if Mr. Boykin is elected.

“I’m just really excited about his candidacy,” the Recorder said. “I have some ideas for ordinances, they’re already written up. We’ve got some unique problems in the suburbs, but I think we’ve got some unique opportunities, too. We sat down with Rich and we said we’d like you to consider moving your office to the suburbs….When you win, we want that office in Proviso Township; right here with us, because this is where your margin of victory is going to be.”

Diane Williams, a member of the Maywood-Melrose Park-Broadview District 89 school board, said she’d like to see the county government become more proactive in suburban education. 

“We’re not a resource rich district, so we are looking forward to the time when we can connect with county government,” Ms. Williams said.

State Representative Emanuel “Chris” Welch (D-7th), whose office is in Westchester, within the vicinity of where Mrs. Yarbrough would like to see a Boykins office located, reinforced the Recorder’s main point of emphasis.

“I see one guy whose vote will represent us,” he said. “He will give us  a vote on that county board. The person whose been in Proviso regularly, that’s out here for us regularly is Richard Boykin.”

Rep. Welch then humorously addressed another of Mr. Boykin’s biggest political liabilities–his past support of prominent Republican politicians, such as U.S. Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL).

“There’s been a lot of talk about him not being a Democrat, about him helping Republicans. We are democrats first, but when we get elected, we have to work with everybody. You have to reach across the aisle. I have a purple tie on today. Richard has a purple tie on today. That’s very significant. What do you get when you put red and blue together? Purple. That’s working together.”

Mrs. Yarbrough, playing the part of party general, roused her troops by marshaling a point that, if true, may prove decisive on election day. She said that Proviso Township boasts the second largest Democratic vote in Cook County, which may justify the PTDO’s supreme confidence in a Boykin victory.

“I think everybody here today is giving you more than just an endorsement. For these last six days we’re going to get out there and work it and win it. We’re going to make sure you get across that finish line,” said Rep. Welch.

Perhaps feeling a bit smothered by the support of his biggest ally, Mr. Boykin was careful to strike a note of commonality and inclusion–lest Proviso’s proprietary embrace turn away potential voters in other areas of the First District such as Oak Park and Austin.  But he didn’t stray from the main theme of the morning–that he is the candidate uniquely positioned to address suburban issues.

“I’ve knocked on thousands of doors and talked to thousands of people–from Chicago all the way through Proviso and what I’ve learned is people want the same thing. They want safe streets. They want to make sure that businesses can grow. They want jobs in the community. They want to feel like they can walk down the street without being gunned down.”

“I live in the suburbs. I’m proud to call Oak Park home. I’m also proud to call Maywood a place where I had a law office because of the urging of Mayor Don Williams and State Rep. Karen Yarbrough. I had a law office right around the corner. When I think about Westchesteer and all of the areas out here, I think about flooding. I’ll work with the Illinois congressional delegation and Army Corps of Engineers to get those resources resolved. I’ll also look for sustainable resources for the County Land Bank. Here in Maywood we have a number of abandoned properties that need to be put back on the market,” said Mr. Boykins.

Other Proviso Township elected officials on hand to endorse Mr. Boykin included: Forest Park Commissioner Rory Hoskins; Maywood Trustees Toni Dorris and Ron Rivers; District 209 school board member Readith Ester; Westchester Mayor Sam Pulia; Proviso Township clerk Tony Williams; and Bellwood Trustee Ronald Nightingale. VFP

Correction: An earlier version of this article misspelled Jesse White’s name. This article has since been emended.

More Election Materials To Inform Your Vote: Think Democracy Candidate Forum Video (Part II)

On February 22, 2014, we held a candidates forum at the Maywood Public Library featuring individuals running for judgeship positions on the Cook County Circuit Court (7th and 11th Sub-Circuits) and as First District Cook County Commissioner. A comprehensive election guide containing a sample ballot and instructive voting information can be accessed here. For a recap video, click here. A full video of the first panel, which comprised judicial candidates, may be seen here. To access the second video featuring the Commissioner candidates, click here. VFP

Election Material To Inform Your Vote: Video of 2014 Think Democracy Candidate Forum (Part I) And Election Guide

On February 22, 2014, we held a candidates forum at the Maywood Public Library featuring individuals running for judgeship positions on the Cook County Circuit Court (7th and 11th Sub-Circuits) and as First District Cook County Commissioner. A comprehensive election guide containing a sample ballot and instructive voting information can be accessed here. For a recap video, click here. A full video of the first panel, which comprised judicial candidates, may be seen here. The second panel, comprising Commissioner candidates will be released tomorrow. Remember, early voting began on March 3rd and ends March 15th. GOTV. VFP

Real Quick Politics: As 1st Dist. Commissioner’s Race Heats Up, Boykin Campaign Claims 20-Point Lead, Sercye Lands Another Major Endorsement

Tuesday, March 4, 2014 || By Michael Romain

As early voting in the 2014 Illinois Primary Elections gets underway, the down-ballot, but most intriguing, Democratic race to replace First District Cook County Commissioner Earlean Collins is heating up. Today, the Chicago Sun-Times‘ Early & Often blog reported that an internal poll conducted by the campaign of Richard Boykin, the attorney and former chief-of-staff for Congressman Danny K. Davis, showed Mr. Boykin with a 20-point lead. The Early & Often post states that the poll’s numbers “show an incredible surge by Boykin since January and a steep drop by former Chicago Ald. Ike Carothers.”

Even more interesting: “The poll also shows that despite Blake Sercye’s high-profile endorsements — including from Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Illinois Secretary Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle — he is in fourth place, behind Carothers and activist Brenda Smith. Ron Lawless is also running in the crowded March 18th primary.”

Just yesterday, Karecki broke the news that Sercye had picked up the endorsement of yet another Democratic big whig–Illinois Secretary of State Jessie White–in a move that Karecki claimed is a “snub” to Congressman Davis.

According to the posting, White said of Sercye:

“Blake Sercye is from our neighborhoods and has exhibited the personal resolve and perseverance to overcome so many of life’s obstacles. He is a natural leader and good man who will serve with integrity, honor and commitment.”

The Boykin poll, which surveyed 400 likely general election voters from February 25 to February 27, was conducted by Washington, D.C.-based GBA Strategies and shows Boykin in the lead with 34 percent of likely voters, “Carothers with 15, Smith with 13 and Sercye with 10. The survey, however, shows 23 percent undecided, meaning there is some room even with less than three weeks to go,” wrote Karecki, who neglected to mention Ronald Lawless’s 5 percent. She also didn’t mention the poll’s margin of error, nor its methods for collecting that data (i.e., where the survey was concentrated; whether it was conducted via land-line or wireless phones, or over the internet; etc.–all factors that may contribute to the survey’s overall accuracy).

On February 24, Richard Boykin’s Twitter feed announced that Capital Fax released a poll that morning that had his campaign up by just 5 points. Representatives from the Boykin campaign could not be reached for comment.

A confidential source within the Sercye campaign said that the Boykin poll doesn’t reflect the bounce that they expect from the recent succession of high-profile endorsements that have come their way.

“The survey was done before any of our main endorsements and before we even sent out a single mail piece. I think the momentum looks like its leaning our way more than his way and this looks like an effort on the part of Boykin to appeal to democratic voters,” the source said. “We’re not putting much weight into [the Boykin poll]. We know we have the momentum.”

Ronald Lawless dismissed the survey much more explicitly.

“It’s an internal poll, its his poll, he needs that poll because he know he’s falling,” Lawless said. “He needs to try to sale to people that he is the front-runner. We don’t know what kind of questions were asked, how leading they were. It’s a useless poll. It’s irrelevant.

“What he needs to address are more important issues other than polls like the homeowner exemption issue. He needs to do a poll asking voters what they would do about him having more than one homeowner exemption and whether or not they would vote for him then,” Lawless said.

“The real poll will be on March 18th–the people’s poll.”

A representative for the Carothers campaign said that he hadn’t looked at the poll closely enough to form a strong opinion. The campaign of Brenda Smith could not be reached for comment.


Regardless of the polling minutiae, however, the Boykin campaign seems buoyed by its own momentum, with the candidate holding press conferences throughout the first district at a rapid-fire rate. Last month, on February 20, the Boykin campaign held a press conference with various west suburban government, community and faith leaders to highlight the County’s Land Bank program and to “appropriate uses for vacant properties located on Chicago’s West Side and West suburban communities.”

And a week later, on the February 27, he issued a press release “calling for community justice centers to serve Proviso Township and Garfield Park communities.”

“In serving the First District as Cook County Commissioner, I will strongly advocate for the resources necessary to develop two community justice centers for the Proviso Township and Austin,” Boykin said. “Too often, Cook County residents lack access to vital legal resources. The creation of these centers would fill that void.” VFP

From the Review: Big Endorsements Change 1st District County Commissioner’s Race

The Forest Park Review is Now Partnering with The Village Free Press

Tuesday, February 25, 2014 || By Michael Romain 

All five candidates for 1st District Cook County Commissioner primary race faced off Saturday, February 22, 2014, at the Maywood Public Library for the Think Democracy Candidates Forum. The forum was sponsored by The Village Free Press, Forest Park Review, Neighbors of Maywood Community Organization (NOMCO) and other community organizations.

The five candidates were former 29th ward alderman Isaac “Ike” Carothers; attorney Blake Sercye; attorney and lobbyist Richard Boykin; educator and consultant Ronald Lawless, and community activist Brenda Smith. This was the first forum in which Smith has participated.

Many of the same issues, such as the County Land Bank, taxation and the budget, were brought up by all five candidates.

The difference on Saturday was that, with the Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle endorsing 27-year-old attorney Blake Sercye, the dynamics of this race have changed. What many may have considered a two-man duel between Carothers and Boykin has turned into a race of three.

Carothers, who carries the baggage of 2010 corruption charges, to which he pleaded guilty in exchange for a 28-month prison term, urged attendees to look at his record of achievements while an alderman in the 29th ward. Among the achievements he touted were a new school and a senior housing complex.

“I’d like to provide the same leadership I provided for the 29th ward,” he said.

Smith heralded her status as the only female on the ballot and stressed that as commissioner, “excellent service” would be her priority.

“I’m Richard Boykin–unbought, unbossed and unafraid,” said Boykin, in what sounded like a rhetorical pivot following the Emanuel-Preckwinkle endorsements.

During a February 18, press conference, Preckwinkle said that she and Mayor Emanuel plan to pull no punches in helping Sercye get elected–even to the point of pledging to commit more than $50,000 each to his campaign. The development seems to have motivated Sercye’s opponents to overplay the underdog card.

“You have a clear choice on March 18,” said Boykin, Congressman Danny K. Davis’s former chief of staff, during his closing statement. “You can go with the machine or the people’s candidate.”

Funds Preckwinkle pledged have yet to fully materialize according to sources inside the Sercye campaign and public records show Boykin has a clear fundraising advantage. Yet that still hasn’t stopped Boykin and Sercye’s other opponents from painting him as the puppet candidate of forces bigger than himself. A Manchurian candidate, of sorts.

During his opening comments, Sercye didn’t directly address the backlash surrounding the endorsements. Instead he talked about his personal story as the son of a single mother who was able to go to Princeton. He framed himself as an honest alternative to his older opponents.

“I can talk until I’m blue in the face about policy, but what matters most is a commissioner who you know is ethical and trustworthy,” said Sercye in what may have been a subtle reference particularly to Carothers’s corruption charges and questions regarding Boykin’s official residency and his acceptance of multiple homestead exemptions.

Lawless was the first candidate to explicitly bring up the endorsements, when he said during his opening comments that endorsements don’t win elections–people do. And people, said Lawless, appear to have had it with Mayor Emanuel, a claim that, if true could turn a major endorsement into a major liability for Sercye.

“I’m the only candidate who has the people’s endorsement,” said Lawless. “You have to be true to yourself… anyone who will close 50 schools in Chicago is not a friend of mine and he’s not a friend of yours … if [Emanuel] got his city right, he wouldn’t have to worry about the county.”

Carothers said he didn’t understand Emanuel’s reasoning for getting involved in a county race, since his jurisdiction is the City of Chicago.

“Why aren’t they [Emanuel and Preckwinkle] endorsing all those other races that are down ballot?” Carothers asked.

Since he landed those major endorsements, it’s been a common complaint lodged by Sercye’s opponents that his campaign is now being bankrolled by interloping heavy-hitters bent on pulling the West Side and the western suburbs into their sphere of influence.

“We have nothing against Mr. Sercye,” said Rev. Ira Acree, pastor of Greater St. John Bible Church in Austin and a supporter of Boykin at a Boykin campaign press conference held on the same day of the Emanuel-Preckwinkle announcement. “But we do resent when the Mayor sits in his ivory tower and tries to select our leadership. You have too much of this already. The previous mayor [Richard Daley] picked his aldermen and councilmen. Madigan picks his state representatives.”

Coming from Carothers, once one of the most powerful political figures in Chicago, and Boykin, the establishment frontrunner, seemed rather odd, to Lawless. He humorously incorporated it into his closing comments.

“Last week, I was the only people’s candidate,” Lawless said. “Now we have three people’s candidates … Rahm has shifted everybody.” VFP

Full video and more in-depth coverage from this event will be available soon.