On Feb. 14, Dennis Deer appeared before the Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board. We asked him why he’s running for Cook County commissioner in the 2nd District in the March 2018 primary:
Hi, my name is Cook County Commissioner Dennis Deer. I was appointed about seven months and one day ago as succeeding the belated Cook County Commissioner Robert Steele. I am a clinician by training. Behavioral health background. Born and raised in North Lawndale which is a community on the West Side. An underserved community where 70 percent of the males 18 to 45 are ex-incarcerated. I actually saw my first murder at 10 years old. Walked around with PTSD and so that drove me to the behavioral health field which I’ve been serving in at that point.
I would also indicate that I have been doing a lot of work in economic development. I’m actually down in the congressional records as one of the architects of the Second Chance Act. Helping individuals actually re-enter society and clean their lives up. I started a community mental health center as well as a substance abuse outpatient treatment facility and currently helping to create a community where we can grow businesses and grow jobs.
I have four top priorities. Economic development because I believe in entrepreneurship education. The 2nd district actually includes the West Side of Chicago. A good portion of downtown as well as Englewood. Englewood and the West Side of Chicago, which is North Lawndale actually mirror each other. Where economic development has not been a good thing in those communities. They are underserved communities.
Public safety is another area which is why I spend a considerable amount of time working with ex-incarcerated individuals and health care. Particularly mental health care is very important to me. I’m a clinician by training, I’ve spent a considerable amount of time helping individuals to gain their mental health and I think we all need a mental health day here and there. And lastly, fiscal responsibility. I think it’s very important that in Cook County we have fiscal responsibility and listen my goal is to bridge the gap between the West Side, South Side to East Side and North Side so that none of us are left outside.
The Chicago Sun-Times sent the candidates running for Cook County commissioner in the 2nd District a list of questions to find out their views on a range of important issues facing the Chicago area. Deer submitted the following responses to our questionnaire:
QUESTION: The County Board enacted and then repealed a tax on sweetened beverages, then made further cuts to the budget. Can county government now claim an appropriate balance of revenue and services, or will more revenue or more cost-cutting be necessary? Please be specific as to where new revenue might come from, or where further cuts could be made.
ANSWER: County government will need to produce additional revenue. I do not support raising taxes unless it’s a last resort. As I mentioned during the budget hearings, I believe there are opportunities for our hospital system to take advantage of 340b. Currently the hospital does take advantage of 340b internally but not externally. This is a revenue stream that has potential to provide substantial revenue for the hospital which moves it closer to sustaining itself. At this time I am researching other revenue options that are still to premature to share.
Running for: Democratic nomination for Cook County commissioner in the 2nd District.
Political/civic background: Current Cook County Commissioner 2nd District
Occupation: Commissioner/Background in Behavioral Health as Clinician and Administrator
Education: BS- Education, MS- Rehabilitation Counseling, Doctorate- Divinity
QUESTION: If the Affordable Care Act is eliminated or curtailed, what would you propose doing to keep the county’s Health and Hospitals System on sound financial footing?
ANSWER: Downsizing or elimination of the ACA would be yet another reason CCHHS would need to began exploring and utilizing the external side of 340b. It has the potential for a substantial revenue stream and would help the hospital to move closer to self-sufficiency.
QUESTION: What county functions or services would you support privatizing, if any, to reduce costs?
ANSWER: I am not in support of privatization of any services. It appears that whenever privatization takes place the system may save a few dollars upfront, but ultimately it ends up paying double to triple in the long run. Furthermore the quality of services diminishes in some cases.
QUESTION: The state of Illinois is behind on paying money it owes to Cook County. What’s to be done about that?
ANSWER: At this point Cook County has to continue to aggressively seek payment of the money that is owed to it. What is your position on tax-increment financing districts? Are they a valuable development tool? Are they underutilized? Is the process sufficiently transparent? Should there be more community input? Should the definition of a “blighted” area be revised? I believe there needs to be a campaign of education in the community about what a TIF district is as well as the process. How can we hold anyone accountable and demand transparency if the community does not understand what a TIF district is, the process or how it effects them. TIF’s can be an essential tool to creating economic development, which I would greatly support.
QUESTION: Recently, there have been calls to freeze local property taxes. What’s your view on the matter?
ANSWER: I don’t support raising property taxes, but I am not totally in favor of perpetually freezing property taxes because the revenue that it generates helps sustain an array of services offered by Cook County.
QUESTION: Do you support or oppose efforts to merge unincorporated pockets of the county into adjoining municipalities? If so, how would you make that happen?
ANSWER: I would leave this matter to the voters of those unincorporated pockets of Cook County.
QUESTION: What is your plan to encourage economic development in the county?
ANSWER: Economic Development is critical to Cook County particularly in the hard hit disadvantaged communities where jobs are scarce. I will advocate for more entrepreneurship and resources in those areas. I also think its important to create a small business advisory council that will not only make recommendations to stemming economic development in Cook County but also make recommendations to Contract Compliance Department on ways to bolster its Minority Business and Women Own Business programs so that more minorities and women can better benefit from them. By doing this economic development is encouraged not only with those businesses but trickles down to the communities where the businesses may be located or where the business owner lives. I think its also vital to get corporations to invest in our local economy for economic development and establish more apprenticeship programs assisting with bringing resources to communities that need it.
QUESTION: An additional $40 million per year is needed to fund the Forest Preserve District’s Next Century Conservation Plan. Where can the county find the money?
ANSWER: This money has to be found by raising revenue. There are items that are currently no cost such as parking. Currently charging for parking at Swallow Cliff Woods is up for consideration as a low-cost option of raising revenue. Another consideration is to slightly raise the fee for picnic permits. We should also encourage the Federal Government and conservation organizations to assist us.
QUESTION: Traditionally, the Forest Preserve District has not charged for parking in the preserves, but it is considering doing so at Swallow Cliff Woods. Do you support that?
ANSWER: Yes! As indicated above, the Forest Preserve must be able to sustain itself. As budgets get tighter and tighter across municipalities, we must find innovative ways of finding revenue. This means that some services that were free or no cost, may have to become low-cost.
QUESTION: Should the Forest Preserve District have its own board, independent of the County Board? Please explain.
ANSWER: No. As the board is currently structured each commissioner serves in two capacities (cook county board commissioner/Forest Preserve Commissioner) which is more cost efficient. To do otherwise would cost the taxpayers more money paying for board and staff.
QUESTION: Is Cook County treated fairly by the state? If not, how so?
ANSWER: No as long as the state owes the county money, it is not being treated fairly.
QUESTION: Do you support another effort in the Legislature to reform the county’s pension system?
ANSWER: Currently it would be difficult for me to make a firm decision on a pension package that I am yet to review. To date I have not seen one that I would support.
QUESTION: Please name any relatives who hold a county job. What’s your general view on elected officials hiring relatives?
ANSWER: I believe the citizens of Cook County deserves the best qualified people to work for them.