Last Republican standing ends night on his feet at Cook County Board

With 100% of precincts reporting, Cook County Commissioner Sean Morrison was ahead with 52% of the vote to Democrat Daniel Calandriello’s 48%.

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Cook County Commissioner Sean Morrison in 2019.

Cook County Commissioner Sean Morrison remains the only Republican on the Cook County Board.

Ashlee Rezin / Sun-Times file

Sean Morrison, the lone Republican incumbent Cook County Board commissioner running for reelection, held a narrow lead over his opponent Tuesday night.

With 100% of precincts reporting, Morrison was ahead with 52% of the vote to Democrat Daniel Calandriello’s 48%.

“I’m proud of the race that we ran,” Morrison said as the once packed crowd inside a banquet hall in southwest suburban Orland Park thinned out.

Morrison, who also doubles as head of the Cook County GOP, shared the party with Republican 6th Congressional District candidate Keith Pekau, who failed to unseat Democratic U.S. Rep. Sean Casten.

Despite his apparent lead, Morrison said he was saddened for the county, as it appeared that Democrats would continue to dominate the County Board.

“I don’t believe that either party should ever have complete control,” Morrison said. “There has to be checks and balances in government.”

Earlier in the evening, as the crowd waited for election results, they dined on tortillas with smoked pulled chicken or chorizo and potatoes, Italian cured meats and cheeses, and grilled zucchini and red peppers. Drinks from the cash bar flowed, while a band played hits by Elton John, Carole King and the Bee Gees.

The entire 17-member County Board plus its president, Toni Preckwinkle, were on the ballot, though several commissioners either did not run or couldn’t because they lost in the June primary.

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle (left) in June; Cook County Commissioner Sean M. Morrison (right) in 2018. 

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle (left) and Cook County Commissioner Sean M. Morrison.

Pat Nabong; Rich Hein/Sun-Times file

Democrats have long dominated. Heading into the election, there were only two Republican commissioners to 15 Democrats. Morrison was the only incumbent Republican on the ballot. The other Republican commissioner, Peter Silvestri, did not run for reelection. The Republican seeking to replace Silvestri, Matt Podgorski, was neck-and-neck in the 9th District Tuesday night with Democrat Maggie Trevor.

The County Board oversees one of the largest counties in the U.S. With a roughly $8 billion budget, the county operates a jail, circuit court system and vast public health network that is a destination for people who are low-income or don’t have health insurance.

Preckwinkle, who was running for a fourth, four-year term, hoped to be buoyed by a remap that changed commissioners’ district boundaries in an effort to strengthen her Democratic foothold, while the suburbs have shifted more blue.

Preckwinkle, who also is head of the Cook County Democratic Party, had sought to defeat Morrison, flip Silvestri’s seat blue, and protect two sitting Democratic commissioners who ran for reelection. All four commissioners represent purple, or swing districts, where political races can be particularly tight.

In general, suburban residents over the years have cast more votes for Democrats. In 2020, Democrat Joe Biden won the Cook County suburbs with 66% of the vote, compared to 32% for incumbent Republican President Donald Trump, according to election data with the county clerk’s office.

Suburban county residents “shattered” previous voting records, with Biden receiving the most votes of any candidate in the county’s history, the clerk’s office 2020 post-election report said. Biden won 26 townships while Trump took just four. (Three of those were on Morrison’s turf in the south suburbs).

Two decades earlier, Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore won over suburban county voters, but with 56% of the vote compared to 41% for Republican George W. Bush.

In a previous interview with WBEZ, Morrison has said being a conservative voice on the County Board serves as a check on power. He’s outspoken about crime and how the county spends taxpayer dollars.

But others argue that Democrats are not a monolith, and each Democratic commissioner brings a unique perspective and lived experience to the board.

Commissioners begin their new terms Dec. 5.

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