Becoming a judge in Cook County has traditionally had as much to do with a good ballot name, winning key endorsements and knowing the political ropes as it did law books, legal opinions and judicial temperament.
But now a growing number of independent candidates are borrowing from the Cook County Democratic Party’s playbook, banding together and using those same political tactics to try to win seats on the bench.
After losing her first run for a judgeship in 2018, Lorraine Mary Murphy has become more focused on the political calculus it takes to win.
“I got labor this time, I got the first spot on the ballot, and I’ve got the Irish name,” Murphy said. “There are stats that say you get some extra votes.”
“Every little bit that can get you a bit of an edge, you try to do.”
Conventional political wisdom holds that Irish names and women candidates can provide that edge in contests farther down the ballot, such as judicial races.
Murphy joined forces with eight others — including African American, Asian, Latino and white candidates — to circulate petitions together to make it easier to get on the March 17 ballot.
Of course, March 17 is St. Patrick’s Day.
County Democrats say they’re not worried that coincidence could prove the independents’ lucky charm.
But the surge of independent candidates running against those chosen and slated by the Cook County Democratic Party has not gone unnoticed by party leaders.
“We’re always nervous when candidates run against the slated candidates,” said Jacob Kaplan, executive director of the Cook County Democratic Party.
As for whether the primary being on St. Patrick’s Day could give those running an extra boost, Kaplan laughed.
“I don’t think so,” Kaplan said. “I don’t think that really matters, but it’s funny to think about.”
Murphy is taking on the party’s slated candidate, Araceli Reyes De La Cruz, and James Patrick Crawley, an independent Irish-American candidate.
The independent group Murphy banded together is part of a growing trend of independent slates of candidates running against those chosen and slated by the Cook County Democratic Party. Some independent slates include Irish women, in the hopes of edging out the competition.
Kaplan said the number of independent slates with female Irish candidates has grown over the past few election cycles, but this current cycle has seen the most.
Kaplan couldn’t quantify that, but there are at least 11 women running in circuit court judicial vacancy races have last names that could be Irish.
Kaplan says the party is doing what it always does — sending out mailers, putting candidate literature on the streets, creating a “robust” digital program — but they’re kicking that into a higher gear now.
Mary Kay Dawson, who’s been involved in judicial races since 1992 and works for Mack Communications, said there’s “a great myth that having an Irish name guarantees victory.”
But studies have shown those with female Irish names do have an advantage in county judicial races. One 2011 study by Albert Klumpp, named in part “Fear the Irish Women,” found a female and Irish name offers an advantage of 14.7% and 10.5%, respectively.
Being slated by the party gives a candidate a 10.4% advantage, that study found.
“A single candidate who can monopolize either or both of these advantages in a contest can more than overcome the disadvantage of not being slated,” Klumpp wrote.
Elizabeth Ryan teamed up with a group of three women who are all basically neighbors. Party sources have given them the nickname “The Sauganash Four,” though Ryan said only two live in that Northwest Side neighborhood. They’re all running in their own races but did circulate petitions together.
Ryan and her team are working with Chi-Town Printing owner Tom Stapka, whom Ryan said advised them to run.
Kaplan said he worries these independent slates may lead to unvetted candidates ascending to the bench.
“We go through a long vetting process, where we go through all the credentials and all the committeemen get to explore that, and I think voters can feel confident when voting that they’ve been vetted and gone through a rigorous process,” Kaplan said. “When voting for someone else, you may not have that same confidence.”
Both Murphy and Ryan say they’re the most qualified candidates in their races. Murphy touts her experience as an assistant state’s attorney, trying over 70 felony trials and working in the county’s various courthouses as well as her community service work as reasons why she should win.
Ryan points to her time doing a judicial clerkship, which helped her learn “first hand how a court room should be run efficiently.” She also said she was vetted by the Chicago Bar Association and, being from the South Side of Chicago but now living on the Northwest Side gives her a good base of support in the city.
She agreed that relying on bar association evaluations is important and even independent candidates should go through that process, and she stressed the need for independent candidates.
“I think it’s important that we do have some candidates who are independent, who aren’t running because they’re selected by the party,” Ryan said. “The reason they were selected may not be because they have the best temperament and are very qualified; there could be other reasons. Independent candidates should be considered. Just because I didn’t pay $40,000 to the party doesn’t mean I’m less qualified than my opponent.”
Editor’s note: This article has been updated since original publication to include James Patrick Crawley, an independent Irish-American candidate, who is also competing with Lorraine Mary Murphy and Araceli Reyes De La Cruz for a Circuit Court seat in the “Roti Vacancy” race.