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The political horse trading that’s been going on to pick a new Cook County commissioner to represent swaths of the West and South sides could be resolved Thursday when Democratic committeemen meet behind closed doors to pick a replacement for Robert Steele.
A dozen or more contenders could turn up to the meeting at a West Side CHA complex to present their bona fides to complete Steele’s term representing the 2nd District. Steele, a close ally of County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, died last month.
After a public forum when all candidates state their case, committeemen will head into private executive session to try to figure out who will hold the seat at least until the 2018 election. It promises to be a contentious get-together, as the district includes parts of 19 Chicago wards, and no one ward has a big advantage in the weighted voting.
West Side Ald. Michael Scott Jr., 24th, will chair the meeting. His ward had the most votes cast for Steele in the 2014 general election, so he gets the largest portion of the weighted vote of any of the committeemen, 15.7 percent. Scott said he wants to keep the position in the hands of a 24th Ward resident like Steele, but he declined to say Wednesday who he will be supporting.
South Side Ald. Roderick Sawyer, 6th, who holds 6.4 percent of the vote, said there will be about 10 candidates, among them state Rep. Melissa Conyears-Ervin, wife of West Side Ald. Jason Ervin, 28th.
Ald. Ervin holds 6.7 percent of the vote.
Conyears-Ervin was elected in November 2016 to represent the West Side House district, a position with a base salary of about $67,000 a year. County commissioners make $85,000. Ald. Ervin pulls down about $116,000 on the City Council.
Also expressing interest, according to Sawyer, is Reyahd Kazmi, a political consultant and member of the Chicago Commission on Human relations who’s married to city Clerk Anna Valencia. So has Chicago Teachers Union lobbyist Frank Bass.
Applicants were supposed to have their resumes in by Wednesday, but Scott said he would let anyone speak who comes to the Thursday meeting and throws their hat in the ring.
Whoever gets picked will immediately be in a tough spot politically with an election coming up in 2018. Holding the 2nd District seat will give an advantage against challengers, but the commissioner may need to take some difficult votes in the meantime.
Preckwinkle wants someone to join the County Board who will support her agenda. With Steele hospitalized last November, she had to break a tie on the board to get her soda pop tax approved.
Now that a judge has put a hold on that tax, Preckwinkle could be looking at other ways to raise money. But a new commissioner who voted in favor of a tax hike would be wearing an even bigger target than usual when coming before voters for the first time.
It isn’t certain any candidate will secure more than 50 percent of the votes Thursday. Committeemen could agree to reconvene at a later date. “If we do get there, it’s going to be a full day,” said Southwest Side Ald. Raymond Lopez, 15th, who holds 3.7 percent of the weighted vote. (John Byrne)