August 23, 2023

Don’t mess with Toni Preckwinkle. As was made clear at the Cook County Democrats’ Aug. 14 and 15 slatemaking for 2024, what party chair Toni wants, Toni gets.

And what she wanted – and got -- was Clayton Harris to replace her protégé Kim Foxx as the state’s attorney candidate and the dumping of intraparty rival Iris Martinez as Clerk of the Circuit Court. Martinez, a Latina who served 18 years as a North Side state senator, had the audacity to run in 2020 for Clerk and beat the slated Mike Cabonargi. Now she will have to beat the slated Mariyana Spyropoulos, an MWRD commissioner with substantial family wealth who can self-fund. Her late father was a major stake-holder in Citgo Oil, which bought its crude from Venezuela.

“It was rigged. It was a sham. It was a (Preckwinkle’s) vendetta” against Martinez, exploded an angry Gloria Chevere, an ex-judge and Martinez spokeswoman who is a senior policy advisor in the Clerk’s office. Preckwinkle, according to Chevere, “packed” the subcommittee which made the recommendation for countywide slating (for CCSA, Clerk, MWRD) with suburban committeemen. They number 30 of the 80 and were a minority of the 550,000 countywide weighted-vote, but they backed Spyropoulos overwhelmingly.

Spyropoulos, had $338,045 cash-on-hand as of June 30. She was elected to MWRD in 2010 and re-elected in 2016 and 2022.

At the Aug. 15 subcommittee meeting, where the weighted-vote was 270,000, the tally was 40/40/20 percent between Martinez/Spyropoulos/Eira Corral Sepulveda, the third contender who is an MWRD commissioner and protégé of congressman Chuy Garcia (D-4). In the automatic top-two runoff vote, all of the Sepulveda vote switched to Spyropoulos, and she won 60/40. At the subsequent executive session of the full body a motion was made by Martinez to lay-on-the-table the recommendation. She almost won.

The closed-door debate was acrimonious and racially-tinged, according to my sources among committeemen, with Preckwinkle-aligned Blacks, Woke/Leftists (both White and Latino) and most suburbanites backing Spyropoulos, with more moderate types like Tom Tunney and Brendan Reilly backing Martinez, and some key Martinez Springfield ex-colleagues, like Don Harmon (Oak Park Twp.) and Bob Rita (Calumet Twp.), abstaining and Laura Murphy (Maine Twp.) and Napoleon Harris (Rich Twp.) defying Preckwinkle to support her.

“A lot (of committeemen) have told Iris they will support her,” said Chevere.

“It’s unacceptable,” added Chevere, that the party rejected Latinos for top spots on their slate, including Appellate Court justice Jesse Reyes for the IL Supreme Court vacancy as well as Martinez. But it’s become acceptable for Democrats, now being the check-the-boxes party obsessed with equity, quotas and tokenism. Of the 35 candidates slated, 15 are Black, 10 are White, 6 are Latino and 4 are Asian, with 21 of them women, 13 men and one who identifies as trans. Four slated candidates identify as LGBTQ. Straight White men were notably scarce, numbering just five.

THE “BIG FOUR” SLATEMAKERS: Other than dumping Martinez, Preckwinkle’s and the slatemakers’ clout was minimized and hijacked by other players who made appointments which were then rubber-stamped at slatemaking.  Governor J.B. Pritzker (D) picked Black transgender candidate Precious Brady-Davis in July to fill a Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (MWRD) vacancy. She got slated. It is the province of the Illinois Supreme Court (ISC) to fill judicial vacancies in Cook County, which means Democratic justices Mary Jane Theis, P. Scott Neville and Joy Cunningham do the picking.

During 2022 and 2023 a total of nine Circuit Court judges were chosen by them and all were slated, along with four Circuit judges “assigned” to the Appellate Court (IAC), and all were slated. Cunningham was an IAC justice who was picked by the other six ISC justices to fill Anne Burke’s vacancy in late 2022. So now an appointee is doing appointments. Cunningham was slated for a 10-year term, but faces Reyes on March 19. Of the 15 “vacant” judgeships on the ballot, 14 are already occupied by an ISC appointee, the sole exception being Jennifer Callahan, a private attorney.

Slatemakers are infuriated that they’ve been stripped of their judge-making powers, but their Plan B is to control the “alternates.”

THE “ALTERNATE” SCAM: There are 513 elected judges in Cook County, 165 from the subcircuits and 348 countywide. There is an 8 to 10 percent retirement rate per 2-year cycle, meaning there should be 18 to 20 county spots in 2024. Instead, there were only ten slated, and each was assessed $45,000 by the party for “expenses,” which includes petition signature procurement (about 20,000), a sample ballot and pre-primary countywide mailing. The circulatory period is Sept. 5 to Dec. 4. As of Aug. 15 there were just the 10 openings.

That’s where “alternates” emerge. If a sitting judge sees fit to retire before Dec. 5 – and you can bet there will be a half dozen or more – then the “alternate” by priority plunks down $45,000 and the party gets him/her on the ballot. If the vacancy arises after Nov. 15 then the “alternate” will likely have no opposition. The party machinery can get the needed 20,000 in a week, but not a challenger. So the process serves 3 functions:

First, the committeemen can anoint a bunch of lawyers who have been generous Democratic donors. Second, the lawyers who didn’t get slated are discouraged from opposing the slate by either being put on standby or promised a 2026 slot. For 2024 the “alternates” include 7 women, 3 Blacks, 2 Latinos, 2 Asians and 2 Whites. And third, those challenging the slate – and there will be some women who will file against Cohen, Murphy-Aguilu and Underhill – need all 90 days to get their signatures. So there will be no late entries.

CLERK OF COURT: 18 of the 19 incumbents who sought slating got it, the exception being Martinez. “That’s a vendetta” by Preckwinkle, said Chevere, noting Martinez has been outspoken in her advocacy of empowering women and Latinos in the party. In 2022 Martinez launched an ill-advised “Women of Power” campaign with front-page Chicago Sun-Times ads touting herself, Erin Jones, Kari Steele, Natalie Toro and Patricia Flynn in the June primary. Only Flynn won. Preckwinkle was livid.

Martinez has a lot on her 2024 plate. She had only $19,328 cash-on-hand as of June 30, so she needs a quantum leap in fundraising. She is running for re-election as 33rd Ward committeeperson, and will be opposed by Woke “democratic socialist” alderperson Rosanna Rodriguez Sanchez (33rd), and Toro, Chevere’s niece, was her pick for a vacant area state senate seat, and faces serious Woke/Left opposition. Plus she is immersed in the arduous process of making the Clerk’s office less dysfunctional.

In the 2020 primary Martinez finished first with 31.6 percent, beating 3 men, including the slated Cabonargi, a Board of Review commissioner. The vote was 269,578 for Martinez, 206,189 for Cabonargi, 199,526 for ex-county commissioner Richard Boykin and 113,855 for lawyer Jacob Meister. The percentage breakout was 31.6/24.2/23.4/13.3 and turnout was 851,814. “We’re going to win,” said Chevere. That’s very debatable. Running against a single woman is a whole other playing field.

STATE’S ATTORNEY: Put her in the rear-view mirror. That’s what slating Harris does to the toxic Foxx. He is a UC lecturer, ex-Lyft executive and ex-prosecutor. And he is Black. White retired IAC justice Eileen O’Neil Burke is running, but she won’t crack 35 percent. Harris was slated by acclamation, on a simple voice vote.

10TH SUBCIRCUIT: The subcircuit takes in 3 Chicago Northwest Side wards and extends north to Glenview and Northbrook. Callahan and Murphy-Aguilu were going to run here if not slated countywide. In the race are lawyers Liam Kelly, James Murphy, Peter McNamara, David Adams, Glennon Goodman, and James Crawley.

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