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Effort to appoint court clerk ditched amid racial accusations

Wednesday, May 11, 2016
Chicago Tribune
by Hal Dardick

An effort to make the elected post now held by embattled Cook County Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown an appointed office was abandoned Wednesday amid an outcry from a bevy of African-American groups that alleged racial motives were behind the initiative.

In a County Board room packed with black protesters, including members of Black Lives Matter Chicago and members of theRev. Jesse Jackson's Rainbow/PUSH, CommissionerPeter Silvestri, R-Elmwood Park, withdrew his proposal.

"The intention was always to see if there was a way to make government more efficient and save money," Silvestri said. "This county is in a potentially precarious financial position.

"However, I am very concerned about the divisive nature of this resolution, especially taken out of context as it has in so many different ways in the last couple of days," Silvestri added. "This had nothing ever to do with the Circuit Court clerk. I consider her a friend. "

is move triggered an outburst of applause and a celebratory news conference by Brown, surrounded by dozens of supporters.

"You need a Circuit Court clerk that's going to protect those criminal records," Brown declared. "You do not need a few people appointing a Circuit Court clerk. Those records are too vital. ... So it's important that this office always remains elected by the people."

Brown declined to address whether there were racial motives behind the effort, but the Rev. Janette Wilson, senior adviser to Jackson, was not so reticent.

"Clearly, it is racially motivated," Wilson said. "You have to have a clerk who is responsible and accountable, not to a particular politician, but ... to the people who elected her."

"This is the first African-American elected to the clerk of the Circuit Court ... and this county has been riddled with racism," Wilson added. "It is part of a consistent move by the Republican Party across this nation to roll back the gains we've made in voting rights, and that's what we're talking about, taking the power of the electorate of the people and replacing that with appointments."

Also supporting Brown were the Cook County Bar Association, a longtime African-American coalition of lawyers, individual black activists and an official from the office of U.S. Rep.Danny Davis, D-Illinois.

Silvestri had planned to introduce a resolution that would have urged the General Assembly to allow the chief judge to appoint the Circuit Court clerk, with approval from the County Board president and commissioners. He said it would have consolidated administrative posts and saved money.

Supporting Silvestri was CommissionerLarry Suffredin, D-Evanston. "The intention here was to improve the quality of justice," Suffredin said.

He also said that, if approved by legislators and signed by the governor, the change would not have taken effect until 2020, which would allow Brown to serve out her fifth term if she defeats Republican Diane Shapiro in the November general election.

"We did purposely await the finishing of the primary season, and we purposely wrote into the language that it would not be effective until the end of this upcoming term, since the electoral process has already spoken and was already in motion," Silvestri said.

Brown won a three-way Democratic primary in March, after her party withdrew its backing amid a federal probe into Brown's office for the potential "purchasing of jobs and promotions." County Board President Toni Preckwinkle is executive vice chairwoman of the Cook County Democratic Party.

Before the meeting, Preckwinkle issued a news release distancing herself from Silvestri's move.

"The proposal that the chief judge appoint the clerk of the Circuit Court was initiated by Commissioner Silvestri, and not by my office," the release stated. "I was not informed in advance of Commissioner Silvestri's intention to introduce this resolution. I am neither endorsing nor promoting it, and I met with and informed Circuit Court Clerk Brown of my position."

Silvestri was lauded by black activists and commissioners for withdrawing his effort.

"I appreciate that you have taken this item off our agenda," said CommissionerRobert Steele, D-Chicago. "This is an important issue to our people to know you are doing justice in the right way right now."





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