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Longtime Cook County Commissioner Deborah Sims says she will step down next year, calls for another Black woman to replace her

Sunday, October 10, 2021
Chicago Tribune
by Alice Yin

One of Cook County’s longest-serving commissioners announced this week that she won’t be running for reelection in 2022, but she hopes her successor will be another Black woman.

Deborah Sims, a Democrat from Posen, has represented some south suburbs as well as parts of the South Side of Chicago since 1994. The 5th District’s commissioner’s decision to step down, first reported by the Sun-Times, comes after another veteran Cook County Board member, Evanston Democrat Larry Suffredin, also said he won’t run for reelection in 2022.

 

“My reason is I was going to leave two years ago and decided I’d stay, and so this time I made up my mind to actually leave,” Sims said in a phone interview Saturday. “It’s going to be a difficult run this time around, and I just didn’t feel like I wanted to go through with it.”

 

Cook County Commissioner Deborah Sims, center right, chats with Commissioner Joan Patricia Murphy, left, at a Cook County Board meeting in Chicago in 2009.
Cook County Commissioner Deborah Sims, center right, chats with Commissioner Joan Patricia Murphy, left, at a Cook County Board meeting in Chicago in 2009. (Jos M. Osorio / Chicago Tribune)

Sims remained vague on her post-2022 plans beyond saying she wants to remain involved in politics “if people will allow me.” As for running for another office, her answer is a tentative no — though she added, “Never say never.”

No contenders for the 5th District have thrown their hats in the ring so far, but Sims said she already knows who she wants as her successor.

“My big thing is to just try to find a Black woman,” Sims said. “I know she’s out there. I just got to find her.”

 

Sims noted that only two other Black women serve on the Board of Commissioners, and one of them is the president, Toni Preckwinkle. The only Black woman commissioner besides Sims is Donna Miller, a Democrat from Lynwood.

“I’m no bones about this: I’m hoping to find a Black female that can run,” Sims said.

Sims also said the next commissioner of the 5th District should serve full time. Currently, Board of Commissioners members are allowed to hold outside jobs, though there are some limits and disclosure requirements on dual employment.

Sims lamented how in her decades of service, county positions have become less of a calling and more of a steppingstone to other offices.

“Everybody comes to go somewhere else to another office, and it’s not about doing the county’s business,” Sims said. “I’m from the school of John Stroger, where we all came here to do the work to help the county government.”

Sims said her proudest achievements were establishing health clinics in Robbins and Blue Island, overseeing the building of the children’s care room in the domestic violence courthouse and helping set up mammograms outside the County Building during National Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October.

Earlier this year, Sims was investigated by the county watchdog for allegedly retaliating against an employee who reported a supervisor for groping her. Sims released a statement to the Tribune in July saying she accepted the findings of the inspector general’s office, complied with its recommendations and does not tolerate sexual harassment.

Sims had little to say Saturday about any updates from that complaint other than: “Everything is a learning experience. It’s over. I have nothing to say about it.”

She said over the next year she will prioritize how to distribute Cook County’s $1 billion in federal stimulus funds in order to “do what’s right by some of the communities that have been left behind.” Some examples include Harvey and Robbins, which urgently need new water pipes, she said.

“It’s not going to be easy,” she said about whomever succeeds her. “It’s two wards in the city. It’s a suburban community. Some of the poorest, and some of the more affluent communities. And you have to have somebody who understands the dynamics of all.”



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