Cook County Democrats do their politicking online in cyberspace — and behind closed doors in Berwyn

And while the online gathering featured debate about party loyalty, the group that met face-to-face later behind closed doors opted to elevate a former Republican state legislator to replace Democrat Jeff Tobolski on the County Board.

SHARE Cook County Democrats do their politicking online in cyberspace — and behind closed doors in Berwyn
Jacob Kaplan, executive director of the Cook County Democratic Party, addresses party leaders on Zoom as Cook County Democratic Chair Toni Preckwinkle, left, looks on.

Jacob Kaplan, executive director of the Cook County Democratic Party, addresses party leaders on Zoom as Cook County Democratic Chair Toni Preckwinkle, left, looks on.

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Cook County Democrats didn’t crowd into a smoke-filled room for their virtual convention Wednesday afternoon, but they still managed to prove that even in a pandemic there’s time for politics as usual.

Hours after the party’s virtual convention was conducted in the increasingly familiar socially distant online style, a smaller group of Democrats gathered in a more typical west suburban hall Wednesday evening to pick a replacement for embattled Cook County Commissioner Jeff Tobolski.

And while the online gathering featured debate about party loyalty and staying true to the slated candidates, the group that met face-to-face later behind closed doors opted to elevate a former Republican state legislator to replace Tobolski on the County Board.

The Cook County Democratic Party’s Wednesday afternoon convention at times looked more like an episode of “Hollywood Squares” or “The Brady Brunch” with the camera for the online Zoom meeting switching between the players and stacking them up and down the screen.

Some committeepeople were caught sifting through what looked like mail, eyeing their phones or, in Cook County Clerk Karen Yarbrough’s case, rocking out in a rocking chair.

Cook County Democratic Chair Toni Preckwinkle was unopposed in her bid for another term as head of the party.But when it came time to vote on members of the executive committee, some members voted against the Cook County Board president’s picks.

Preckwinkle wanted to dump Ald. Ariel Reboyras (30th) from the party’s executive committee and install Northfield Township Committeeperson Tracy Katz Muhl in his place.

Muhl and Reboyras each got a chance to make their pitches, painting themselves as dedicated to the party.Others chimed in favor of either Muhl or Reboyras.

Reboyras ran afoul of Preckwinkle for not backing all of the party’s slated candidates in the last month’s primary, particularly Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, Preckwinkle’s protegee.

Preckwinkle described Muhl as a strong supporter of the “entire slate in a difficult election,” and said that while it’s true that not all party members support the entire slate “if you’re going to be a leader of the party it seems to me it’s your obligation … to support our candidates.”

“After that slating, my expectation as chair is people will rally around the slate that we’ve put together collectively … and Tracy was one of the people who worked really hard on it,” Preckwinkle said. “Frankly, I had a conversation with Ariel, and I shared with him I couldn’t support him for treasurer since he was not supporting our candidate for Supreme Court, for state’s attorney or for clerk of [the Circuit Court] of the county.”

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle addresses the Cook County Democratic Party in her role as party chair on Wednesday.

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle addresses the Cook County Democratic Party in her role as party chair.

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Besides backing Bill Conway over Foxx, Reboyras supported state Sen. Iris Martinez over party-backed Michael Cabonargi for Circuit Court clerk.

Martinez came to the alderman’s defense, saying that he’s “not afraid to speak his mind,” calling that a valuable trait for leadership.

In the end, Reboyras fell short of the 400,000-plus weighted votes he needed to win. Muhl received 679,108 votes to Reboyras’ 222,929.

Hours later, half a dozen members of the county party gathered at the Italian American Civic Organization in Berwyn to appoint a replacement for Tobolski, who stepped down from his county job and his role as mayor of suburban McCook after the feds raided his office.

Those who were allowed to enter the building — only those serving on the committee or candidates to replace Tobolski were able to do so — were greeted by protesters pleading with them to pick anyone but former Republican state Rep. Frank Aguilar, who represented Cicero in the Legislature.

Police officers and Berwyn Ald. Anthony Nowak (8th) made sure no one else got inside.

Esteban Rodriguez, a member of the Rizoma Collective, a political action committee in Cicero and Berwyn, said the group of about 20 protesters were chanting in the cold to advocate for anyone but Aguilar because of his Republican background and because they were unhappy with his tenure on the board of trustees at Morton College.

Michelle Ramirez and Anna De La Torre protest outside of the Italian American Civic Organization in Berwyn Wednesday

Michelle Ramirez and Anna De La Torre protest outside of the Italian American Civic Organization in Berwyn Wednesday, asking a group of Cook County Democratic Committeepersons to not appoint former state Rep. Frank Aguilar to the Cook County Board.

Rachel Hinton/Sun-Times

“We realize that his track record is … dangerous for a role that’s as massive as a Cook County commissioner, somebody who has this type of mentality and ideology to lead our jails, our parks, our hospitals, our property taxes — that’s just a formula for a very bad situation,” Rodriguez said.

Aguilar was the first candidate to make his case to the panel, which included state Rep. Aaron Ortiz, the newly sworn-in 14th Ward committeeperson; Yarbrough, the Proviso Township committeeperson, and Cicero Township Committeeperson Blanca Vargas.

Eight committeepersons were entitled to participate in the selection process, because they represent parts of Tobolski’s old commissioner district.But only six were present. One voted by proxy and another was on a conference line, said Nowak, who also coordinated getting candidates in and out of the building.

A man protests the potential appointment of former state Rep. Frank Aguilar along with about 20 others outside of the Italian American Civic Organization in Berwyn on Wednesday.

A man protests the potential appointment of former state Rep. Frank Aguilar along with about 20 others outside of the Italian American Civic Organization in Berwyn on Wednesday.

Rachel Hinton/Sun-Times

Aguilar said the protesters have a right to be out protesting against him, but insisted he’s no longer a Republican. The former state representative said he’d tried to make “inroads” with Latinos and African Americans but “failed” to do so.

“They have a right to their opinion, and I respect that, but my heart is in the community,” Aguilar said.

Despite the protest, sources told the Sun-Times that Aguilar was the committee’s pick.

“I’m disappointed that instead of restoring the faith and trust in government, the party committee appointed to fill the replacement did the exact opposite tonight,” said Mike Porfirio, the clerk of Lyons Township, who also sought the position.

“By picking a former Republican state representative, the partydecided to keep the same old guard of power and leadership.The residents of the 16th district deserve much better. I look forward to giving the voters a voice and a choice in 2022.”

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