On Saturday afternoon, about 80 Northsiders gathered at Chicago's Truman College to hear from five individuals interested in succeeding Mike Quigley on the Cook County Board: attorney Jay Paul Deratany, lobbyist Bridget Gainer, electrician Michael Hickey, 43rd Ward ...
On Saturday afternoon, about 80 Northsiders gathered at Chicago's Truman College to hear from five individuals interested in succeeding Mike Quigley on the Cook County Board: attorney Jay Paul Deratany, lobbyist Bridget Gainer, electrician Michael Hickey, 43rd Ward Committeeman Michele Smith, and Quigley chief of staff Kimberly Walz. The forum, organized by Northside Democracy for America and IVI-IPO, came exactly one week before the Democratic committeemen whose wards overlap with Quigley's 10th District will meet to choose his replacement. Of those committeemen, four hold 75 percent of the weighted vote and two of those -- Carol Ronen and Tom Sharpe -- were in the audience on Saturday. A third, Smith, was among the candidates who addressed the audience.
One individual who is pursuing the seat but did not appear before the public at Saturday's forum is Jennifer Koehler, now deputy general counsel to Gov. Quinn. Koehler was formerly Quigley's chief of staff, after which she worked as a senior policy advisor to Board President Todd Stroger before becoming a senior administrator at the county's Juvenile Temporary Detention Center.
Below is a run-down of the individual contenders and some of what they had to say:
Jay Paul Deratany: In his opening statement, Deratany noted that he had "run against the machine" in the 2008 Cook Co. Board of Review race and shared "stories of [his] advocacy" as an attorney. He said he would advocate "for Section 8 housing, for the homeless, for property tax freezes, for a roll-back of the one percent sales tax increase, for small businesses." He commended Quigley for being a "voice for the voiceless" and said he would like to continue that tradition in his stead.
Bridget Gainer: As a local government lobbyist for Aon and Mayor Daley's reported "choice," Gainer's pitch was a bit hard to swallow: She said she would be a "strong voice for reform, a vote for independence, and a voice for action" on the county board. She played up her community organizing roots and her four years experience in the city's budget office and Park District. "I've managed those personnel, I've changed the practices, I've looked at those contracts, I've overseen bond deals, I know what it looks like and I know how to get it done," she said. "I think the issues at the county are deep from the human services perspective ... But it also has to be about management and how do you actually execute these changes that as progressives want to make."
Michael Hickey: Describing himself as a "new face to many of you," Hickey pointed out that, as an electrician for the county, he is not "new to the workings of the county board." One of his responsibilities has been to record board meetings and he says this has led him to "understand the inner workings" of the body and build relationships with those involved. "If appointed, I'd work to educate people in my district about the function of Cook County," he said, "and put an end to the perception that all the county does is tax them." He added that he would promote the health care system for those in need, use technology to improve transparency and efficiency, and advance various greening initiatives.
Michele Smith: "Our county board cries out for socially progressive, but fiscally responsible and ethically committed leadership," Smith said in her opening statement. She described her priorities as such: Ethical reform (in the words of President Obama, "Government service is an obligation and a privilege, not an opportunity to get rich"), taxpayer advocacy ("I will push to make sure the taxpayers are getting their money's worth"), better oversight ("I vow that one of my first priorities is to form oversight committees to determine how our money is spent"), and government improvement (wants to change the "nuts and bolts" services provided by the county). Smith said that she ran for committeeman because she wanted to "bring progressive values, independence, and transparency to the Cook County Central Democratic Committee." She concluded that she is "very committed" to supporting Forest Claypool's work on the county board.
Kimberly Walz: By far the participant with the most hands-on experience in county government, Walz showed it throughout the forum with her detailed answers. In her opening statement, Walz echoed her boss, saying that "we still have work to do to restructure and reinvent county government." She also stated: "I want to stop having our core services used as political hostages. Any time there is a fiscal crisis in the county, everyone screams, 'Oh, we're going to have to close the courtrooms!' or 'We're going to have to close the clinics!' I don't believe that's true. If you really look at the way we budget ... we could stop these political games." Walz added that the county government is in a "precarious" financial situation and used this as part of her pitch: "I've been doing this job for eight years. And I can do it on day one as your commissioner, fighting for the things Mike has been fighting for, because I already know who the department heads are, I already have relationships with commissioners, I know what coalitions need to be built, and I can do that job from day one to serve you."
The participants also filled out IVI-IPO questionnaires, which the organization intends to post online shortly. These five individuals -- and any other interested parties -- will have another chance to present their credentials before the committeeman on Saturday, after which Quigley's replacement will be chosen behind closed doors.