Democrat Abdelnasser Rashid is challenging Republican incumbent Sean Morrison in Cook County’s 17th district.
The Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board sent nominees for the Cook County Board of Commissioners a list of questions to find out their views on a range of important issues facing the county and their districts. Rashid submitted the following responses:
Cook County has cut its spending and probably will pass a budget that includes no new revenues. Given the county government’s resources and responsibilities, what else would you do to cut or to generate sustainable revenues? How much would money would that save or generate? Are you willing to vote for new taxes or fees? Please be specific.
Rashid: Cutting vital services is not a sustainable way to balance the budget; instead the County needs stable and predictable revenue that does not increase the burden on already struggling homeowners and working families. We must take a thoughtful approach to the budget to avoid unintentional consequences that end up costing taxpayers more. For example, eliminating too many vacancies can increase overtime costs and make it more difficult to reorganize some County departments, such as the Health and Hospital System, or to achieve consolidations in areas like Human Resources or procurement.
We should evaluate the structure of our tax systems and advocate for transparent taxation to ensure fairness and limit losses due to corruption and pay-to-play. We can also continue improvements in revenue collected through County Care by incentivizing the use of the Cook County Health and Hospitals Systems hospital and clinics. Commissioners and President Preckwinkle should also forcefully advocate at the state level for a fair income tax that will lower the burden on middle class families and require the very wealthy to pay their fair share.
The Cook County Health and Hospitals System lost out on some $165 million in revenue over three years because of lax clerical procedures and errors, according to report last spring by the county inspector general. What would you do to end this kind of waste?
Rashid: The Cook County Health and Hospital System has made progress in reducing losses since the passage of the Affordable Care Act and the expansion of County Care. Further reductions in losses can be made through support for administrative staff training at the Health and Hospital System and the integration of user-friendly technologies that can ease and streamline patient scheduling, coding and billing services. A greater emphasis should be placed on staff training in the use of these programs, both for new staff and as continued education, to ensure understanding and follow-through using best practices.
Who is Abdelnasser Rashid?
He’s running for: Cook County Board of Commissioners, 17th District
His political/civic background: Former Deputy Chief of Staff for Cook County Clerk David Orr
His occupation: I am a full time candidate for Cook County Commissioner. For the last two years, I served as Deputy Chief of Staff to Cook County Clerk David Orr. I left the Clerk’s Office in order to fully focus on meeting my constituents to learn about how the County can best serve them.
His education: B.A., Harvard University
His campaign website: rashidforcook.com
What should the County Board’s role be in assisting economically depressed areas in the south suburbs? Should the county sheriff take over policing responsibilities in more suburbs that are struggling to maintain police protection?
Rashid: Municipalities in the south suburbs are struggling to afford to provide basic services such as quality policing due to limited economic opportunities for residents and population loss. These areas are witnessing rising property taxes despite falling home values.
I support the assistance of the County Sheriff’s Department in policing efforts as a form of economic relief to south suburban residents who are particularly overburdened with excessive taxes, fines and fees to cover the costs of services. The targeted assistance of the Sheriff’s department can also play a larger regional role in crime prevention. Many south suburban municipalities are relatively small and the assistance of the Sheriff and County in synergizing the policing efforts of these municipalities can improve outcomes for residents and reduce costs to individual municipalities. However, a long-term and sustainable solution in the form of economic growth is necessary for these suburbs.
Residents of the south suburbs deserve greater economic opportunities through the use of existing regional assets such as transit infrastructure which should be promoted and enhanced by the County. The County can partner with south suburban municipalities to invest in the improvement of their rail hubs through federally-funded transportation projects. The goal of these investments would be increased access to employment opportunities and improvements in south suburban development and population retainment.
As a commissioner, how strongly would you support efforts to ensure that voting within the county is secure?
Rashid: I strongly support efforts to protect our elections. Protecting and strengthening our democracy has been a priority of mine throughout my work as Deputy Chief of Staff to Cook County Clerk David Orr. I believe the federal government and state governments must do more to support local election authorities with cybersecurity resources and training to detect breaches by bad actors, defend against potential threats and recover in the event of a successful breach. Our current election infrastructure is woefully outdated, running on machines purchased in the early 2000s. I applaud Illinois for requiring our elections to have a paper trail, allowing verifiable and transparent recounts at any time, whether due to close election or in the event of a cybersecurity breach.
What should the County Board do to help reduce gun violence?
Rashid: The spread of gun violence is a public health crisis. Cook County’s Stroger Hospital sees an average of 1,000 patients for gunshot wounds each year. The County Board should work to improve services in disadvantaged, low-income communities that have higher incidences of gun violence; including by advocating for state funding of social services and education, and rebuilding community-based mental health infrastructure that dwindled significantly during the recession. As stated earlier, the County Sheriff can collaborate with municipal police in regional crime prevention initiatives. The Sheriff can also work countywide to monitor the flow of guns across municipalities. In addition, I support the County’s efforts to provide behavioral health and rehabilitation services within the County Jail to ease reintegration and lower recidivism.
As with many issues, gun violence affects the entire county and should be addressed on a county-wide basis. The County should be working with the City and local municipalities to ensure proper regulation and oversight of gun sales.
What ordinances would you propose and make a priority?
Rashid: Creating a more fair property tax system is a top priority for me. That’s why I worked during the primary election to elect Fritz Kaegi as our new Cook County Assessor. Our property tax system is fundamentally flawed. It overburdens working families and small businesses. Meanwhile, wealthy corporations avoid paying their fair share as a result of unfair, dramatic under-assessment that places an even greater burden on working families. The appeals process only exacerbates the problem. This must be corrected immediately.
I would propose good government reforms to reduce bureaucratic logjams and save taxpayer dollars. This includes a referendum on combining the elections functions of the Cook County Clerk and the Chicago Board of Elections, which will save taxpayers nearly $10 million per year; creating a centralized office of tax administration; and ensuring there is proper data sharing between government offices, particularly in tax administration.
I would also propose programs and incentives to support small businesses, as they are instrumental to economic growth and growing the middle class.
Should Cook County create a Consensus Revenue Forecasting Commission to give the board independent analyses?
Rashid: I support the creation of a revenue forecasting commission, as Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia recently proposed. The County needs fair sources of revenue that are not regressive and do not overburden working families. A forecasting commission allows legislators on the County Board to be better informed and equipped with the information to evaluate budget proposals. An effective commission will improve accuracy in forecasting.
Does it make sense for the sheriff’s department to take over the Cook County forest preserve police? Does it make sense for Stroger Hospital to have its own police force? Please explain.
Rashid: I support a consolidation of the Sheriff’s Department and Forest Preserve Police if the level of protection and safety were stronger as a result, and if it ensures equal or greater environmental protection in the Forest Preserves. The combination of these offices could create potential for more efficient deployment and reduce redundant administrative costs. However, in this scenario, I would want to be certain that officers policing the forest preserves continue to receive specialized training on environmental matters. Similarly, I would support the Sheriff’s office providing services in Stroger Hospital if officers are adequately trained to operate in a healthcare environment.
Within the forest preserve system, native plants areas in unmanaged land are deteriorating at a rate of about 3 percent per year because of weeds and invasive species. What should be done, if anything, to protect the forest preserve’s ecosystems?
Rashid: I recognize the important role the Forest Preserves play in community life across the 17th District and throughout Cook County. Preservation of native plant species is key to ecosystem conservation and protection of the natural resources our forests provide. As commissioner, I will support habitat conservation efforts. The County can support efforts at the Forest Preserves, e.g. controlled burns, and promote opportunities for residents and communities to take part in conservation through the Friends of the Forest Preserves.
Are county commissioners, who are mostly Democrats, independent enough of their party and the president?
Rashid: I am an independent Democrat who has been unafraid to challenge my own party. In the primary election, at risk to my own campaign, I worked to elect Fritz Kaegi over Joe Berrios, who at the time was the chair of the Cook County Democratic Party. I have worked for independent Democrats like Cook County Clerk David Orr, Cook County Commissioner Chuy Garcia and Senator Bernie Sanders, all of whom have been fiercely independent.
What can the county do to create synergies with the City of Chicago? Or is this unnecessary?
Rashid: Synergy between the suburban areas and the City of Chicago is important. Issues like pollution, transportation, and healthcare are regional issues that require regional solutions. The well-being of each County municipality relies on the successful development of the entire region. As a recognized world transportation hub, Cook County and the City of Chicago should work together on regional economic development and transportation projects. This includes greater cooperation in planning and maximizing access to state and federal funding.
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