Last Republican standing wins County Board race, but control of former GOP seat still undecided

Cook County Commissioner Sean Morrison said he was saddened by Democratic dominance of the County Board and believed neither party should have complete control of it.

SHARE Last Republican standing wins County Board race, but control of former GOP seat still undecided
Cook County Commissioner Sean Morrison at his election night victory party.

Cook County Commissioner Sean Morrison at his Election Night Party on Tuesday.

Manuel Martinez / WBEZ

Complete coverage of the local and national primary and general election, including results, analysis and voter resources to keep Chicago voters informed.

Cook County Commissioner Sean Morrison, the lone incumbent Republican seeking to keep his seat on the County Board, won his reelection bid Wednesday with the concession of Democratic challenger Dan Calandriello.

Morrison’s victory ensures there will be at least one Republican on the 17-member Cook County Board of Commissioners.

“I’m proud of the race that we ran,” the Palos Park Republican told a WBEZ reporter Tuesday evening as the once packed crowd inside a banquet hall in southwest suburban Orland Park thinned out.

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Morrison shared the party with Republican 6th Congressional candidate Keith Pekau, who had hoped but failed to unseat Democratic Rep. Sean Casten.

Despite his apparent victory Tuesday night, Morrison said he was saddened for the county, as it appeared that Democrats would continue to dominate the County Board.

“I don’t believe that either party should ever have complete control,” Morrison said. “There has to be checks and balances in government.”

The entire County Board plus its president, Toni Preckwinkle, was on the ballot, though several commissioners either did not run again or couldn’t because they lost in the June primary.

Preckwinkle handily won her own reelection, and told WBEZ’s Reset Wednesday that her win was a reflection of the Democratic Party’s focus on issues county residents care about. That included, she said, the pilot basic income program she championed and mental health initiatives.

She also defended her calls for criminal justice reform after Democrats won campaigns in which Republicans frequently tried to use policy changes, such as the end of cash bail in Illinois, which is scheduled to be phased out next year.

“I think we’re committed to a criminal justice system that is both more fair and more just and doesn’t penalize people for poverty, or reward people for affluence,” Preckwinkle said.

Democrats have long dominated the County Board. Heading into the election, there were only two Republican commissioners to 15 Democrats. Morrison was the only incumbent Republican on the ballot. The other Republican commissioner, Peter Silvestri, did not run for reelection.

The Republican seeking to replace Silvestri, Matt Podgorski, continues to be neck-and-neck in the 9th District with Democrat Maggie Trevor.

Commissioner Peter Silvestri speaks during a Cook County board committee meeting in 2018.

Commissioner Peter Silvestri speaks during a Cook County board committee meeting in 2018.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times file

When asked Wednesday by a Chicago Sun-Times reporter whether the County Board’s lack of GOP voices limits dissent, Preckwinkle countered that it’s Republicans who are limiting opposing views.

“I definitely believe in dissent. But … we’re at a moment in history in which the Republican Party has committed itself to election denial, committed itself to denying women comprehensive health care, committed itself to a very definite narrow definition of who is an American,” Preckwinkle said on Reset.

“I mean, if you listen to some of the Republicans, you would think that anyone who is not a native born white Christian is not an American. I mean, what kind of nonsense is that?”

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle at the Chicago Cultural Center in May.

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle at the Chicago Cultural Center in May.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times file

“The Democratic Party has always, at least in my lifetime, stood for inclusion. … That inclusion is religion, it’s race, it’s gender identity. It’s … women’s ability to control their own bodies,” Preckwinkle said. “And I wish there were more people on the Republican side who shared what I believe are reasonable positions on those subjects. And there aren’t.”

Morrison, who also doubles as head of the Cook County GOP, declared victory Wednesday after Calandriello’s concession, issuing a statement thanking voters who showed they “want an independent voice serving them.”

He vowed to “continue to stand on my pragmatic principles of limited government, lower taxes, and finding responsible, common-sense solutions to our county’s problems. I will also remain committed to challenging the ‘soft on crime’ policies that have endangered communities and families across Cook County.”

“Finally, regarding the statement made by Cook County Board President, Toni Preckwinkle — the residents of Cook County’s 17th District would disagree, as they have now elected me for a second consecutive time to the county board,” Morrison said in the statement.

“It is extreme and unwarranted to castigate hundreds of thousands of working families across Cook County in the manner that she did. Rather than providing her misguided characterization of residents, she ought to be focused on the real issues facing Cook County, like crime and property taxes.”

Cook County Commissioner Sean Morrison at his Election Night Party on Tuesday.

Cook County Commissioner Sean Morrison at his Election Night Party on Tuesday.

Manuel Martinez/WBEZ

The County Board oversees one of the largest counties in the U.S. With a roughly $8 billion budget, the county operates a jail, Circuit Court system and vast public health network that is a destination for people who are low-income or don’t have health insurance.

Preckwinkle won her fourth four-year term, and she was buoyed by a remap that changed commissioners’ district boundaries in an effort to strengthen her Democratic foothold, while the suburbs have shifted more blue.

Preckwinkle, who also is head of the Cook County Democratic Party, had sought to defeat Morrison, flip Silvestri’s seat blue, and protect two sitting Democratic commissioners who ran for re-election.

Commissioners begin their new terms on Dec. 5.

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