To inform voters and help the Chicago Tribune editorial board make endorsements, the committee posed a series of questions to candidates vying for the Cook County Board of Commissioners. See their responses below. See how other candidates responded here.
[What’s an endorsement, and why does the Tribune Editorial Board do them?]
- Candidate Name: Zerlina A. Smith-Members
- Run for: Chairman of Cook County Council
- Residence: Chicago
- Actual job: Former SEIU Field Organizer
- Past political experience (elected and appointed positions): The first black woman to lead a statewide political party (Illinois Green Party.) ran for councilman for the 29th Ward in 2015 and 2019.
- Education: Northwestern Bachelor of Political Science
- Occupation of Spouse: Cook County Deputy Sheriff
- Sources of external income: None
[A guide to the Illinois primary election, including the key dates, where to vote — and the highest-profile issues]
According to the latest Cook County budget, the pension fund is now 64% funded. That’s good, but there’s still a lot of room for improvement, especially compared to national averages. What is your plan to put the county on the right path to 100% funding? please be as specific as possible.
In order for both pensions (General County Pension Fund and Forest Reserve Pension) to work 100%, we need to consider merging the two pensions together. By merging the two pension plans, you will save hundreds of millions of dollars in management fees and brokerage fees over time. The fund merger will increase the fund’s purchases to reduce the cost of securities per unit.
There is growing support in many cities for taking a different approach to law enforcement that involves spending more money on violence prevention efforts like street outreach and mental health services, instead of just putting more cops on the streets. Cook County’s latest budget reflects this approach. Do you believe this is the right approach? Please explain why or why not.
I’m not against alternative ways of dealing with mental health services and violence prevention methods, but we need to hold the providers of these services accountable. We need to set targets for these providers, such as: the number of clients they should serve per quarter, the number of violent crimes in a target area per quarter, etc. The Cook County government must hold violence prevention providers accountable by setting targets. And if the vendors cannot meet the agreed target/objective, they will be terminated as a Cook County Government contractor.
Tell us what you think about the county’s $42 million guaranteed income pilot program for suburban county residents. Let us know if you think its reach is sufficient or if it needs to be expanded, or if you think the money should be spent elsewhere.
I think guaranteed income is a bad idea. Guaranteed income will not lift residents of suburban county residents out of poverty. Guaranteed income is a band-aid solution to the structured problem of poverty. The guaranteed income program is funded by the federal program through the COVID relief fund, which is temporarily. And so, will be short-lived. Currently, Cook County’s transportation, education, and economic infrastructure keeps some groups poor. I’m for all the people of Cook County, not the few. Guaranteed income is for the few.
How should the guaranteed income pilot program be funded once the coronavirus stimulus funds run out?
The guaranteed income pilot program is expected to be passed when the COVID stimulus money runs out.
In many Cook County Southland communities, a moribund tax base and shortage of jobs have contributed to a bleak economic outlook for these southern suburbs. What should the county do to reverse the exodus of jobs, businesses and people from southern suburban communities currently under severe economic strain?
The Cook County government, through state law, is expected to create a tax-free economic zone for several years to attract investment. I’m a big fan of supply-side economics. This type of policy will attract property developers, employers and an increase in residents.
In the revamped Cook County Ethics Ordinance passed late last year, the annual amount vendors and lobbyists can donate to Cook County elected officials and candidates in non-election years was changed. doubled from $750 to $1,500. Given that the goal was to strengthen the ethics ordinance, do you think doubling that donation amount was the right thing to do? explain why or why not.
The doubling of lobbyist donations undermines efforts to prevent corruption and pay to do politics. Cook County government should be for the people, not for a particular interest.
If you support Chief Justice Timothy Evans’ bail reform efforts, please explain why you do so and if you do not, please explain why you oppose it.
I oppose bail reform because it will not reduce our county’s recidivism and crime rate. Bail reform is about reducing the prison population, not the crime rate. As Chairman of Cook County Council, one of his duties is to keep the residents of Cook County safe, not to reduce the prison population.
Give us the best example of when you demonstrated independence from your party or defended an unpopular position.
As president of Saucedo Elementary LSC, I took an unpopular position on Rahm Emanuel and the CPS board merger of Saucedo Elementary and John Spry Community High School. As a result, the community and the parents took a stand with me and we reversed their decision.
Summarize why you think voters should nominate you and not your opponents.
The catalyst for my run for Cook County Council President was an 18-day strike by SEIU Local, my former employer. I was the field organizer. During this strike, I have witnessed the lack of compassion from the Cook County administration and the leadership of SEIU Local 73. As Chair of the Cook County Board of Directors, I will treat Cook County employees as equal partners in governance. The Cook County government includes the majority of unelected employees. My main job as Chairman of the Cook County Board of Directors is to take good care of my employees. I believe in taking it from my employees.