Ald. Brookins Jr. running to replace Cook County judge forced into retirement

Chicago Ald. Howard Brookins Jr. (21st). | Sun-Times file photo

South Side Ald. Howard Brookins Jr. is running for the Cook County judge vacancy left by Valarie Turner, who was forced into retirement earlier this month for letting a clerk put on her robes to preside over traffic court.

Brookins (21st), who hadn’t publicly announced his candidacy before talking to a Chicago Sun-Times reporter on Wednesday, said he “had to think fast” when the Illinois Supreme Court ruled on Dec. 7 that Turner’s replacement would be chosen in the March 20, 2018, general primary elections.

“I always figured that there would be a point where my career would end in public service,” Brookins said. “I didn’t think that opportunity would be there at this point in time. But I think it’s time.”

Brookins said he would not resign from the City Council “until and unless I’m elected.” The next round of aldermanic elections are in February 2019.

He is one of six candidates vying for the Second Judicial Subcircuit, which opened up Dec. 1 when the Illinois Courts Commission ordered former Judge Valarie E. Turner to retire after revelations that she let law clerk Rhonda Crawford wear her robes to hear traffic cases at the Markham courthouse in August 2016.

Attorney Rhonda Crawford | Max Herman/Sun-Times

Turner later revealed that she was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. Crawford ran unopposed to be judge in the First Judicial Subcircuit, but was barred from taking the bench.

Brookins had been eyeing another challenge for U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush’s 1st Congressional District seat — he lost in the 2016 primary — but he withdrew from that race at the same time he filed to run for judge on Tuesday afternoon, according to records with the Illinois State Board of Elections.

“I think my talents and career are suited to go to the bench,” Brookins said. “It’s something I have been thinking about for awhile. And the opportunity may not be open for another 10 or 20 years.”

Brookins has served as 21st Ward Alderman since 2003. He was chosen to chair the City Council’s Education Committee in 2016 and is the former chairman of the City Council’s Black Caucus.

He served on Mayor Emanuel’s school-closing commission, sitting through scores of public hearings across the city in a process that culminated in the mayor’s controversial decision to close a record 50 public schools. The move alienated African-American voters who helped elect Emanuel in 2011 and nearly cost the mayor his re-election bid.

Brookins also had a notorious run-in with a squirrel while biking on the Cal-Sag Trail last year, leading to a crash that left him with serious facial injuries. He has since pushed for stronger garbage carts to keep out such “aggressive squirrels.”

Brookins’ 21st Ward covers parts of Auburn Gresham, Washington Heights, Gresham, Chatham and Roseland.

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