West Side community activist takes out second mortgage on home to help fund her campaign for Cook County board president

Zerlina Smith-Members said incumbent Toni Preckwinkle is “out of touch and out of time.”

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Zerlina Smith-Members on Monday announced, from her home in the Austin neighborhood, that she plans to run for Cook County Board president.

Zerlina Smith-Members on Monday announced, from her home in the Austin neighborhood, that she plans to run for Cook County Board president.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

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Standing outside her modest Austin home, the front steps crumbling, Zerlina Smith-Members on Monday announced her intention to run for Cook County board president.

The community activist and mother of two said she’d taken out a second mortgage on her home to help fund her campaign. A tower of 500 red-and-white campaign signs stood just inside her front door. Her 12-year-old daughter introduced her to one newspaper reporter and a single TV camera.

“So my day starts off with having no real resources, but I’m working on that,” Smith-Members said.

Smith-Members, 44, has twice run unsuccessfully for alderman.

“I’m very serious. I’m not worried about anybody else,” she said.

Smith-Members, who has lived in Austin for the past 10 years, says Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle has failed to deal with the violence plaguing the county.

The Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office recently confirmed the county’s 1,000th homicide in 2021. The last time Cook County saw more homicides was in 1994 when there were 1,141.

Smith-Members described Preckwinkle as “out of touch.”

“I am going to make sure that if you do the crime, you do the time. I’m going to make sure that we enforce every law that’s possible to let all these individuals that are out here causing harm, ruckus and mayhem in our communities be held accountable,” Smith-Members said.

How else does she plan to tackle the violence problem?

“I’m going to work — not promise you — with [Cook County police] chiefs. I’m going to work with the Chicago Police Department. I’m going to work with the Chicago mayor …,” she said. “We have an underfunded [Cook County] state’s attorney’s office. We have an underfunded electronic monitoring system.”

On property taxes, Smith-Members said: “As president of the Cook County Board, I will be beholden to you the people — not Democratic Party bosses and special interests that want to perpetuate an unfair property tax system.”

Preckwinkle’s campaign responded to Smith-Members’ criticisms in a statement: “President Preckwinkle has shown exemplary leadership during her decade as county board president and looks forward to seeking reelection to a fourth term. She has upheld the county’s legacy commitments to providing affordable, accessible health care to residents advancing criminal justice reform, and in the last term, providing support and recovery resources during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

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