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Dorothy Brown and the politics of ‘I got mine’

After two decades in a taxpayer-funded office, beleaguered by federal investigations, Brown says she is stepping down because she’s got her taxpayer-funded pension.

Dorothy Brown
Cook County Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown has announced she will not run for re-election.
Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

I got mine, she said.

Dorothy Brown, Cook County’s circuit court clerk, has announced she is retiring.

“After weeks of speculation about whether she was running, Brown said that stepping down from public office at the end of 2020 dovetails with logging 20 years with the county,” Politico reported Wednesday. “That’s when she’ll be able to draw a full pension.”

“I will be fully vested,” Brown told ABC 7-Chicago. “So, it’s a good, solid foundation to catapult me to the next level. I’ll be able to help other people.”

So, after two decades in a taxpayer-funded office, and beleaguered by years of federal investigations, Brown says she is stepping down because she’s got her taxpayer-funded pension.

I don’t begrudge anyone’s pension. However, unlike elected officials, many of us can’t count on getting one in this new economy.

Brown’s swan song is a revealing one. I call it “politicians’ privilege.”

She could have cited other reasons for ending her decades of “public service.”

She could have said, “Well, voters, it’s time for a younger generation to step up and serve.”

Or, “Voters, I have done all I can to make government work for you. It’s time for fresh ideas and new vision.”

Or even, “I’ve had it with the feds, so I’m packing it in.” (That may be closest to the truth).

Instead, it all comes down to that cushy pension. The same, uber-generous type of government-funded pension that has put Illinois into a multi-billion dollar hole and decimated its public finances.

Too many elected officials believe in their unalienable right to public office and all of its alluring trappings.

Via ego and hubris, they come to believe that they “own” the office. The power and status blinds them to the reason they were elected in the first place: to serve the public.

Brown showed great promise when she first ran for office. She was a fresh political face, widely supported by churches and women’s groups throughout the African American community. The “church lady” seemed even a bit goody-two-shoes.

Something changed. In recent years her tenure has been mired in controversy and scandal. Federal investigators have looked into numerous allegations that she sold jobs and promotions in her office.

She has never been charged and has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.

Brown has repeatedly pledged to modernize the operations of her office, which oversees the paperwork for the county’s massive court system.

It never happened.

“Her antiquated office, still relying on manila folders and carbon paper, is responsible for hundreds of cases where prisoners are unable to file appeals because they haven’t been provided trial records,” according to a February critique in The Chicago Reporter.

Brown is not the only elected official who enjoys politicians’ privilege.

Currently, there are at least four Chicago-area elected officials under federal investigation.

When the feds swoop down, the politicians don’t quit their jobs. Instead, they deploy campaign contributions, outside income, connections and the other largess they enjoy — to fight the charges.

All that privilege, power and status were granted to them by us.

They get theirs. Where’s ours?

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