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Swearing-in of Tobolski’s County Board successor held behind closed doors – like his selection

When Frank Aguilar was chosen for the position last week, only a half dozen Cook County Democrats and candidates seeking to replace Tobolski were allowed in the meeting.

Then Cook County Commissioner Jeff Tobolski, left, in December; then state Rep. Frank Aguilar, R-Cicero in 2003.
Then Cook County Commissioner Jeff Tobolski, left, in December; then state Rep. Frank Aguilar, R-Cicero in 2003.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times; from www.ilga.gov

Former Republican state Rep. Frank Aguilar officially took Jeff Tobolski’s old seat on the County Board Monday morning, but coronavirus protection measures kept the swearing-in closed from public view.

Aguilar said he understood the “precautions” the county is taking to try to curb the spread of COVID-19.

“We’re forced to do it [this way],” Aguilar said. “We have no choice.”

It’s the second time in less than a week that coronavirus containment measures have halted public access to proceedings involving Aguilar.

When Aguilar was chosen for the position on Wednesday, only half a dozen members of the Cook County Democratic party were allowed to gather inside the Italian American Civic Organization in Berwyn for the meeting to replace Tobolski. Tobolski stepped down from his county job and his role as mayor of suburban McCook after the feds raided his village hall office.

Only those serving on the selection committee or candidates seeking to replace Tobolski were allowed to enter. Reporters were barred.

No video feed was provided as has been done with many other governmental proceedings.

And public input was pretty much limited to the roughly 20 protesters outside, who pleaded with the Democratic committeepersons to pick anyone but Aguilar, a longtime Cicero town official who represented the western suburb in the Legislature.

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

Days after the closed-door meeting, Democrats on the committee shed little light on how they chose Aguilar, who got his start in the political organization of convicted former Cicero Town President Betty Loren-Maltese and later served as a top aide to current Town President Larry Dominick.

And Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, the party’s chair, couldn’t shed much light on the selection of Aguilar.

“I don’t really know anything about this person, and so I can’t really comment on him, or his capability for the job or people who were protesting his potential appointment,” Preckwinkle said last week. “I’m not a member of the committee that made this choice, I wasn’t present, I don’t know anything about the proceedings.”

As for Aguilar, he said since he was chosen for the position, he’s been reading up on what the role will entail. He’s read “correspondence” from the county, and while there’s not specifically a new commissioner handbook, he said he is preparing for his orientation, which will lay out “general procedures” of county government.

He’s driven around the district to get a sense of things, too.

“Small businesses are closed, hopefully not permanently ... traffic is down, there’s not a lot of activity going on,” Aguilar said. “Health is the priority right now, along with education and labor.”

Aguilar said last week he’d already started putting together a task force to address how coronavirus is affecting his district. That work, as well as “keeping a close eye on the most vulnerable populations,” such as seniors or the disabled, will continue under both a coronavirus perspective and a general health lens.

Getting “the economy back in order” should be a priority, he said, adding that he looks forward to working with his district and other commissioners to do so.

“It’s time to get to work,” Aguilar said.