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Iris Martinez elected as first Latina Cook County Circuit Court clerk

Her win marks the second time a woman of color will run the court clerk’s office, which keeps records of the nation’s second largest court system.

State Sen. Iris Martinez votes Wednesday, October 28, 2020, at Newton Bateman Elementary School, 4220 N. Richmond St.
State Sen. Iris Martinez votes Wednesday, October 28, 2020, at Newton Bateman Elementary School, 4220 N. Richmond St.
Provided

Serving a crushing blow to her opponent, state Sen. Iris Martinez won Tuesday’s Cook County Circuit Court clerk race to replace Dorothy Brown, becoming the first Latina to head the job-rich but obscure office.

With 90% of precincts reporting, the Northwest Side Democrat was leading with 70% of the votes against Republican Barbara Bellar, a Burr Ridge physician and lawyer. There was also an unknown amount of uncounted mail-in ballots as of Tuesday night, but Martinez was leading with a half-million votes.

“We’re very excited... I’m going to bring the changes this office needs and bring it out from under a dark cloud,” Martinez said before she was expected to address her face mask-wearing supporters at the Kanya Lounge, at 2525 N. Elston Ave.

Bellar said she wished Martinez well, adding that she thought the two shared “similar, good intentions.”

Martinez’s win marks the second time a woman of color will run the court clerk’s office, which has more than 1,400 employees and has earned a reputation for inefficiency, corruption and federal investigations under Brown’s tenure.

Martinez has already made history as the first and longest-serving Hispanic woman elected to the Illinois State Senate — an office she’s held for 17 years.

Likewise, Brown made history 20 years ago as the first African American county court clerk, and as the second Black woman to hold countywide office after former U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley-Braun.

Brown declined to run for a sixth term after two of her top aides were convicted of perjury and lying to a grand jury to protect her. Brown has never been charged and has repeatedly insisted she’s done nothing wrong.

Dorothy Brown. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times
Dorothy Brown
Sun-Times file photo

Leading up the election, Martinez branded herself as an independent-minded, “no nonsense” politician with the gumption to overcome machine politics — which included standing up to Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan — and modernize the court clerk’s office.

She’s promised to conduct an office-wide audit and make the office open to public record requests. However, Martinez has admitted an office overhaul could be hindered by a possible 20% budget cut as county finances suffered due to the coronavirus pandemic.

During the March primary, Martinez thumbed her nose at Democratic party-slated candidate Board of Review Commissioner Michael Cabonargi, defeating him by a 50,000-vote margin. Martinez claimed she had an edge by being the only Hispanic and only woman among three other male primary challengers.

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