When he was a candidate for River Forest’s village board a year ago, lawyer Richard C. Cooke said he and his family “were going to spend the rest of our lives here.”
Within days of losing that election, though, Cooke formed a campaign fund to become a Cook County judge representing a district miles from his home in River Forest.
By last June, Cooke had registered to vote from an apartment he owns near Logan Square — in the county’s Sixth Judicial Subcircuit.
Now, he’s running unopposed in next Tuesday’s Democratic primary for a judgeship from the subcircuit, which is predominantly Latino.
Illinois set up the judicial subcircuits 25 years ago to expand diversity on the Cook County bench. Still, it’s not unheard of for white guys such as Cooke to make sudden moves across town to get elected from majority-minority districts with vacancies.
What’s especially interesting here is how Cooke engaged in a broad, aggressive push to win over the subcircuit’s political judge-makers.
Cooke loaned himself $500,000 last April, six days after forming his campaign committee to run for judge, and then gave his campaign another $160,000, records show.
More than $67,000 from that stash was passed on to politicians, including party leaders who oversaw Cooke’s slating as a judge candidate.
Records show Cooke’s committee wrote checks to four Democratic wards in the subcircuit — the 27th, 30th, 31st and 33rd — and seven aldermen. Other contributions from the aspiring judge went to the 14th Ward Democrats of Ald. Edward Burke — who oversees slating for judges — and Mike Madigan’s state Democratic Party.
And Cooke’s campaign paid another $40,000 to Spartacus 3, a company owned by state Rep. Luis Arroyo Sr., D-Chicago, and his wife.
Arroyo says the company’s $5,000-a-month services included gathering nominating signature petitions for Cooke.
Many Northwest Side political players are grumbling that Arroyo, whose son is a county commissioner, is growing his clout. They’ve nicknamed him “King In The North,” after a character in the blood-drenched TV drama “Games of Thrones.”
Arroyo says he’s hoping to retire from Springfield soon and just wants to do some consulting through Spartacus 3. He lauds Cooke for scaring off potential rivals by pouring huge amounts into his own campaign fund.
“When people drop a half a million dollars into a bank account, you really got to think hard about running against them,” Arroyo says.
Cooke says Arroyo offered his services to him.
“He told me he had intimate, intimate knowledge of the voting blocs in the subcircuit,” Cooke says. “I said, ‘That sounds good to me.’”
Cooke says he self-funded his campaign because he was “just not comfortable asking other people” to finance his dream of becoming a judge. With no rivals, his campaign ended up not needing to spend most of the money he loaned himself.
The judge-to-be still is registered to vote in River Forest, at his house valued at more than $850,000. And Cooke continues to participate in River Forest’s village zoning panel, which he was appointed to last May.
But Cooke says he and his wife had separated and he moved to the second-floor apartment in Logan Square before he registered to vote in Chicago last year. Signs for 33rd Ward boss Dick Mell’s re-election as committeeman are in the apartment’s windows.
Cooke rebuts carpet-bagging allegations by noting his law office, two gas stations and car wash are in the subcircuit.
“I meet the residency requirements under the law,” he says.
You can violate the supposed spirit of a law while adhering to the letter.
At this point, the people of the subcircuit and the rest of the county can do nothing more than think about that — and about how Judge Cooke came to wear his robes — when they’re standing before his honor soon.