The meeting to choose a successor to embattled former Cook County Commissioner Jeff Tobolski could prove a challenge to social distancing requirements.
As many as ten contenders are hoping to present their credentials to the eight-member panel of Democratic Party leaders planning to meet in Berwyn on Wednesday to make the decision.
Organizers did not respond to requests for comment about their rationale for holding the meeting while the state is under Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s stay-at-home order.
But Cook County Clerk Karen Yarbrough, who doubles as Democratic committeeperson for Proviso Township, said candidates seeking the appointment will come before the committee one by one and the party leaders will be six feet apart.
Earlier in the day, the entire 80-member Cook County Democratic Party is planning to hold its convention to elect party officers online rather than in person.
It’s been a little over five weeks since Tobolski announced he was giving up his Cook County commissioner seat, and in that time the field of would-be successors has swelled, inching closer to the size of the entire 17-member County Board itself.
That could complicate the work of the committee that plans to make the appointment Wednesday at a special meeting of Democratic leaders.
Since Tobolski announced his resignation March 6, the field of potential replacements has ballooned from four, to six and now to possibly as many as 10 candidates, said Yarbrough, who is on the committee to pick Tobolski’s replacement in her role as Democratic Proviso Township committeeperson.
“It seems like everybody involved has someone [from their area] who’s interested in this seat,” Yarbrough said.
The clerk and longtime committeeperson said she was waiting to connect with a candidate from her area who works for the Cook County state’s attorney’s office.
In addition to Yarbrough, the committee to pick Tobolski’s replacement includes Ald. Ed Burke (14th); Berwyn Mayor Robert Lovero, who has the largest weighted vote; Blanca Vargas of Cicero; Barrett Pederson of Leyden Township; Bridgeview Mayor and state Sen. Steven Landek of Lyons Township; state Rep. Michael Zalewski of Riverside Township, and Vincent Cainkar of Stickney Township.
The eight-member group, all members of the Cook County Democratic Party, are scheduled to meet Wednesday at 7 p.m. at the Italian-American Civic Organization of Berwyn. To be appointed, the candidate will need the weighted equivalent of 27,162 votes out of a possible 54,322.
Among the names of people said to be eyeing the position are Cicero realtor Eduardo Garcia, who founded Realty of Chicago in Berwyn; Victor Burgos, who works as an operating engineer in the county’s Department of Facilities Management; Mike Porfirio, the clerk of Lyons Township, and Frank Aguilar, a former Republican state representative elected to represent Cicero and Berwyn.
Burgos and Aguilar didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.
Porfirio pointed to his background and government experience in Lyons, Bridgeview and Summit to explain why he’d be “an effective commissioner.”
“I know the area well, and I think I would be able to represent the people very effectively,” Porfirio said. “I have a good pulse of what’s going on, and my experience would help me be a good public servant and steward to people.”
When asked about the job Tobolski did, Porfirio said the former commissioner was “visible” in the community but, with the cloud of a federal investigation looming over him, people want someone to “restore their faith and trust in government and public servants and I think we owe that to people — we owe it to people to be morally and ethically responsible.”
On March 6, Tobolski, who was first elected in 2010, resigned from both the County Board and his position as McCook village president effective March 31, according to the letters obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times.
That move was sparked by the September search of Tobolski’s McCook Village Hall offices, although he gave no reason given for either of the resignations.
That raid was part of a suburban squeeze that came days after federal agents raided the home and offices of former Democratic state Sen. Martin Sandoval. A source told the Chicago Sun-Times the raids were related.
After the raid, the former commissioner missed a string of County Board and Forest Preserve meetings — he blamed health issues for missing those meetings and said at a December Forest Preserve meeting that he was still under a doctor’s care but “... it’s my picking or choosing as to how I feel, and I’m back today.”
Pat Doherty, Tobolski’s chief of staff, was indicted in February on three bribery charges.
For Garcia, who is also vying for the appointment, the opportunity is one that could help balance the scales of diversity on the board. Since the county is more than 30% Hispanic, at least four Latinos should hold seats on the board, Garcia said.
He also hopes to educate people in the community about what a commissioner does and to bring resources to all parts of the district.
“I’m not going to be a part-time commissioner — anything I’ve done in my life, I’ve given it 150%,” Garcia said. “We need someone at the table in Cook County to voice our concerns.”