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County Democrats hear candidate pitches — including challengers to Sheriff Dart calling for ‘change over complacency’

Candidates for state and county offices were among those who kissed the rings of Cook County Democratic Party heads Friday. Sheriff Tom Dart told them he’s tried his best to make sure his office is engaged “in every community throughout this county. ... We’re always trying to be as responsive as we can.”

Democratic challenger Carmen Navarro Gercone, left; Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart, right.
Democratic challenger Carmen Navarro Gercone, left; Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart, right.
Provided; Brian Rich/Chicago Sun-Times file

Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart has been in office for 15 years, but a challenger hoping to oust him next June told leaders of the Cook County Democratic Party on Friday “taxpayers cannot afford another four years” of his leadership.

Carmen Navarro Gercone said Dart has not “focused on the violent crimes plaguing our communities” and pointed to two lawsuits against the office as drains on taxpayers’ pocketbooks and patience.

More than 500 women are asking to join one of the suits, a sexual harassment complaint that alleges officials in Dart’s office didn’t do enough to stop inmates from masturbating in front of the women, who worked at the jail.

“The policies, practices and complacency have cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars already during [Dart’s] tenure,” Navarro Gercone told Democratic leaders.

“We cannot wait another four years for leadership. ... I know I am new to many of you and that I’m not a politician, but I truly feel the Democratic Party is at a critical impasse and citizens are asking, ‘Can they keep us safe?’ I hope you can make the tough choice to vote for change over complacency.”

Navarro Gercone worked her way up the ranks in the sheriff’s office to become the first assistant executive director for court services before leaving last December for a job in the clerk of the Cook County Circuit Court’s office.

Navarro Gercone, Dart and another challenger, LaTonya Ruffin, were among the candidates running in the 2022 primary who showed up to kiss the rings of Cook County Democratic Party leaders Friday. It was the party’s pre-slating meeting ahead of the December endorsement decisions for the June 2022 primary.

 LaTonya Ruffin, candidate for Cook County sheriff
LaTonya Ruffin, candidate for Cook County sheriff
Campaign video

The party’s ranks are composed of committeepeople who represent the city’s 50 wards and 30 suburban Cook County townships.

Dart told those in attendance he’s tried his best to make sure his office is engaged “in every community throughout this county, whether it’s in the city, whether it’s the suburbs. We’re always trying to be as responsive as we can.”

Ruffin, who’s served as deputy sheriff with assignments at the jail and in courtrooms, said those experiences would allow her to bring “transparency and accountability to the sheriff’s office.” She also pledged to partner with municipal police departments in the hopes of mitigating violent crimes.

Party leaders also heard from all four Democratic candidates seeking to succeed outgoing Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White in a race that’s already hotly contested.

Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd) said her goal is to “move people out of lines at facilities to online,” which would include offering a personalized secretary of state dashboard like those for online banking and implementing digital driver’s licenses.

Ald. David Moore (17th) also talked about advancements in the office, saying there’s an “opportunity to use technology to lower our costs by fully implementing digital license plates and at the same time providing discounts to our seniors, while generating new revenues through corporate advertising on license plates.”

Former Illinois Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias proposed allowing more services to be handled over people’s phones, including putting driver’s licenses and state IDs on an app and allowing people to complete their vision testing requirement on their phone, too.

Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd), left, in May; Former state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, center, in June; Ald. David Moore (17th), right, in June.
Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd), left, in May; Former state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, center, in June; Ald. David Moore (17th), right, in June.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times file

Chicago City Clerk Anna Valencia said her experience in her current position has allowed her to work with state legislators, something that would help her as secretary of state “talk about the need of investment in technology infrastructure, because you see not only efficiencies, you see savings, and our workforce could really be able to work smarter and not harder.”

Chair of the party Toni Preckwinkle, who also serves as Cook County Board president, said she’ll support whoever the party slates for the secretary of state position. Asked if she had a favorite in the race, Preckwinkle, a former 4th Ward alderperson herself, said she did — but declined to say whom.

Chicago City Clerk Anna Valencia in 2018
Chicago City Clerk Anna Valencia in 2018
James Foster/For the Sun-Times file

Cook County Assessor Fritz Kaegi and challenger Kari Steele, who currently serves as the president of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District, also asked for the party’s endorsement.

Candidates for the little known water treatment board, including Rick Garcia, also appeared to ask for the party’s support.

Garcia, an LGBTQ and Human Rights activist who founded Equality Illinois, took his appeal for a role on the board higher up, asking Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Wednesday to appoint him to the board after Commissioner Debra Shore was tapped by President Joe Biden to lead the Midwestern office of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

“I’ve always been a team builder and always been able to work with a variety of people,” Garcia said.

“I may not be a water professional or a scientist, but what you need is someone who will look at the science, who will look at the best technologies and are able to gather support for those policies that are cutting edge, clean and green.”

Friday’s pre-slating meeting is the last one on the calendar before the party announces its endorsement decisions on Dec. 13 and 14. On Thursday, party leaders heard from judicial candidates and those seeking to be elected — or reelected — to the Cook County Board of Review.