Claypool is just what Cook County needs

By Andrew Hammond

On March 21, Illinois Democrats will nominate their candidates for the 2006 election. In that election, the nomination for Cook County Board President will be decided—a position that commands the second largest county in the U.S., a three-billion- dollar government, and services that affect five million people.

John Stroger, the current Cook County Board President, is running for reelection. If you’ve read a Chicago newspaper in the last decade, you know that Stroger has become synonymous with one word: corruption. Stroger has filled every county service with his cronies and finally, the people of Cook County are getting sick of this flagrant example of machine politics. They’re sick of public hospitals where an ER patient is stomped to death by a security guard and a baby dies waiting for care. They’re sick of a juvenile detention center in which children are being beaten by untrained guards—20 percent of whom are from Stroger’s own ward—and forced to fight each other for the guards’ amusement. They’re sick of a county government that is known for providing patronage rather than providing basic services for the neediest citizens.

Too often in American politics, we are voting against one candidate rather than voting for another—the utter disgust we have for one causes us to pick the other. Obviously, Stroger has given us reason enough not to vote for him. But the man running against him is worthy of our support, and not just because he is the alternative.

Forrest Claypool is a political maverick. In 2002, he ran against the President pro tempore of the Cook County Board for the 12th district seat. That incumbent was endorsed by every elected official in Cook County. Claypool beat him.

As a member of the county board, Claypool has led a reform faction that has sought to clean up the three county-run hospitals, clean up the juvenile detention center, and acquire more land for county green zones.

Claypool’s career in Chicago politics started long before 2002. He served as the head of the Chicago Parks District in 1993, cleaning up parks across the city and winning several awards for doing so. In fact, the University of Virginia developed a business school case study using Claypool’s leadership as a model.

If Claypool’s progressive credentials were ever in question, let me take you back to 2003, when a little-known state senator from Hyde Park was running for the Democratic nomination to Senate. His name was Barack Obama, and Forrest Claypool was one of the first elected officials to endorse him. As a side note, Stroger did not endorse Obama. He endorsed the white machine candidate, Dan Hynes.

Claypool served as one of Obama’s closest advisers in 2004. He led the transition team when Obama won the general election.

Furthermore, Stroger’s corrupt government has given Claypool a unique opportunity, and one that has led to an unlikely marriage between progressives and fiscal conservatives. Both groups are supporting Claypool because both are not being served by Stroger’s cronyism. Stroger has bloated the Cook County government, raising taxes not to provide better services, but to provide patronage jobs for his supporters.

If elected, Claypool will be able to do what politicians never do, cut taxes and provide better services for our county. He will be able to do both because Stroger and the machine has created a situation where progressive reforms will lead to often mutually exclusive goals—controlling spending and expanding services.

This situation leads us to ask this question: how could Claypool not get the nomination? The answer, unfortunately, is that Stroger has the support of the white machine and the black community. In Chicago politics, that’s a lethal combination. What’s more, while Claypool has raised $250,000 in the last financial cycle, Stroger still has about twice Claypool’s cash on hand.

Nevertheless, the Chicago Sun-Times published a poll on January 25 that showed Claypool and Stroger in a dead heat. It’s no surprise then that Stroger has reneged on his agreement to debate Claypool on local television.

This campaign matters. To every member of the campus left (which, I am proud to say, is alive and well): I am begging you to get involved. We liberals often complain that there aren’t any progressive candidates out there whom we can help. We either say that a candidate isn’t progressive enough or he isn’t likely to get elected. We want, and we should continue to want, a candidate who both shares our ideals and has a chance of implementing those ideals.

In Forrest Claypool, we finally have our man.

A Claypool victory will improve lives for countless citizens in this county. Kids who were beaten unconscious by detention guards will stop being beaten. Patients who have died while waiting for hours to receive care will stop waiting. This is an election that all the experts are predicting will be close—many saying that it could come down to less than 1000 votes.

I bet there are 1000 votes right here on campus. A strong student showing could swing this election, and swing it the right way. If you’re not registered to vote, register. If you weren’t planning on voting in Chicago, switch your registration. This election is a chance for change. It would be a crime to let it pass us by.