Leading up to the March 17 primary, The Maroon has put together a series of explainers and candidate guides to help Hyde Park voters make informed choices. The rest of the guides can be accessed here.
In the November general election, Cook County will elect a new Circuit Court clerk for the first time in two decades. Dorothy Brown, the current clerk, has held the office for the past two decades and has opted to not seek reelection.
Republican Primary Candidates
The winner of the primary will face off against Republican candidate Barbara Bellar, an attorney and physician, who is running unopposed in her party’s primary.
Bellar told the news station WTTW that if elected, she plans to “streamline technology, reduce duplication of personnel positions and functions [and] stress cross-training, build pride and team spirit.”
She has not yet established a campaign website or fundraising committee. Bellar has previously made unsuccessful bids for both the Illinois Senate and Illinois House of Representatives.
Democrat Primary Candidates
Four Democratic candidates are competing in the March 17 primary elections. All have emphasized the importance of modernizing the office and making it easier for litigants to use the resources of the court system.
State Senator Iris Martinez has represented Illinois’s 20th district since 2003 and was the first Latina woman to be elected to the Illinois State Senate. Her time in that office has included legislation aimed at securing women’s access to contraceptive coverage, for which she received the Profile in Courage Award from Planned Parenthood.
In her bid for Cook County clerk, she has promised to end the mismanagement of the office by firing at-will employees in top administrative roles in the clerk’s office, who she believes have been responsible for bureaucratic dysfunction in the past. If elected, she also plans to conduct an audit of each of the funds that support the clerk’s office, in order to determine whether they are operating efficiently.
Jacob Meister is a lawyer and the founder and chairman of the Civil Rights Agenda, a statewide civil rights nonprofit. He previously ran for the office in 2016.
Meister has proposed a new “access to justice” program for parties representing themselves in court, who frequently lack access to a computer or have difficulty navigating the court’s electronic systems. This will involve installing electronic filing kiosks in public libraries and other government buildings, and holding e-filing training seminars for reference librarians and government employees aimed at ensuring that self-representing litigants can file court documents without having to go to a courthouse during business hours.
Former Cook County Commissioner Richard Boykin, who represented the First District from 2014 to 2018, previously made waves as a vocal opponent of the county’s sweetened beverage tax, which was repealed by the Cook County Board of Commissioners in 2017 following widespread backlash from residents. He was later defeated in a reelection bid by Chicago Teachers Union organizer Brandon Johnson.
Boykin has said that if elected, he will prioritize improving the clerk’s website, enabling smartphone access to Circuit Court access, and working with the Chief Judge to make the court fully paperless by 2030. He also plans to move towards making the state-mandated e-filing system less cost- and labor-intensive for Cook County residents.
Michael Cabonargi has served on the Cook County Board of Review, a three-member body tasked with reviewing assessments of Cook County properties and lowering property taxes where it deems necessary, since 2011. Recently, the Board has substantially decreased the assessed values of numerous commercial properties, despite Cook County Assessor Fritz Kaegi’s initial decision to raise them. In his bid for County clerk, he received the endorsement of the Cook County Democratic Party.
He has said that if he’s elected, he will take steps to eliminate cash bail, and will reduce the amount the office takes from each cash bail payment from as much as $100 to just $5, the minimum allowed.
Cabonargi has also promised to reduce the fees required to file a lawsuit and to make the structure of legal fees more transparent.