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Iris Martinez wins Dem Cook County Circuit Court Clerk race to replace Dorothy Brown

She will face off with Republican challenger Barbara Bellar in the November general election.

State Senator Iris Martinez.
State Senator Iris Martinez.
Rich Hein/Sun-Times file photo

State Sen. Iris Martinez has won the race for the Democratic nomination for clerk of the Cook County Circuit Court, setting her up for a possible showdown against Republican challenger Barbara Bellar to fill Dorothy Brown’s vacancy.

As of 9 a.m. Wednesday, with 97% of precincts reporting, Martinez secured 34% of the vote. She was ahead of Michael Cabonargi with 27%, Richard Boykin with 25.3%, and Jacob Meister with 13.7%.

Martinez will face off against Bellar, who ran unopposed, in the November general election.

Wednesday afternoon, Martinez wrote on Twitter that she “just received a very gracious call from Michael Cabonargi conceding the Clerk Race and kind words from Jacob Meister. I am thankful for everyone’s support and will be issuing a full statement later on today.”

In a statement, Cabonargi said: “While I’m saddened by the election results, I’m deeply grateful to everyone who supported our campaign and believed in our ability to bring reform to the Clerk of the Court’s office.

“The voters have spoken, and I’ve called Iris Martinez to extend my congratulations on her victory and wish her the very best. For the first time in two decades there will be a new Clerk of the Courts, and I support our new Democratic nominee for the job.”

As results came in Tuesday night, Martinez said she was “keeping it positive” as results came in, but did not claim victory. Due to the coronavirus outbreak, she was forgoing an election night party, spending it instead with family and her team.

“We’re just playing by the rules,” she said. “We all have to be responsible. We have to celebrate with who we’re with.”

The clerk’s office has been criticized for its inefficiency and alleged corruption during Brown’s polarizing 20-year run. Federal authorities began investigating Brown in 2015 and secured convictions against two of her top aides for perjury and lying to a grand jury. She was never charged.

Brown, who is retiring with a full pension, announced last year that she wouldn’t seek a sixth term.

The clerk’s office maintains court records, processes fines and bail bonds, and employs about 1,400 people.

Cook County Circuit Court Clerk Democratic candidates, from left, Michael Cabonargi, Iris Martinez, Jacob Meister and Richard Boykin.
Cook County Circuit Court Clerk Democratic candidates, from left, Michael Cabonargi, Iris Martinez, Jacob Meister and Richard Boykin met with the Sun-Times Editorial Board Monday, February 3, 2020.
Rich Hein/Sun-Times files

Even though Brown recently digitized much of the clerk’s office, it still lags behind many suburban court dockets that are fully digitized. Each of the candidates said the current docket system is mismanaged, and laid out plans to modernize it.

Martinez, who studied public policy and administration at Northeastern Illinois University, is running on a platform to end the “neglect, mismanagement, and corruption that has plagued [the clerk’s office] for decades,” she told the Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board in a written statement.

She made history as the first Latina woman to be elected to Illinois’ State Senate. She’s held the office for 18 years and is now the assistant majority leader.

Martinez also won Tuesday a race for 33rd Ward Democratic Committeeperson.

The Democratic Party of Cook County put its support behind Cabonargi, who was endorsed by the Sun-Times. He amassed $700,000 in his campaign fund and put down $500,000 in TV advertisements, according to Crain’s Chicago Business.

Cabonargi, of Wilmette, is a Cook County Board of Review Commissioner and former prosecutor for the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Meister is an attorney and founder of a nonprofit LGBT rights organization.

Boykin, also an attorney, ran with the support of Brown’s base of African American church leaders, but failed to attain a winning coalition. He lost his seat as Cook County commissioner in 2018 after losing the favor of his party’s leaders when he voted against the soda tax.