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County commissioner Forrest Claypool’s announcement that he’s leaving government—and therefore not running for county board president—has reportedly inspired interest from all sorts of other possible candidates for the job. Looks like a free-for-all like last year’s campaign for state’s attorney may be in the works for next year's Democratic primary. A few thoughts on the potential candidates:
· Alderman Toni Preckwinkle: She’s in for sure, and if she can convince voters that aldermen do something besides approving the sale of city assets and getting indicted, she’s got a chance. She’d already been raising money and lining up supporters; yesterday she launched her campaign Web site. Claypool’s exit from the race will be a lift to her chances of picking up the votes of lakefront liberals and reform-minded voters—unless another one of those goo-goo types decides to make a run for it
· County commissioner Larry Suffredin: When I talked with him a couple of weeks ago he spoke of his admiration for Preckwinkle but noted, almost apologetically, that he had committed to backing Claypool. Now that Claypool’s not a factor, Suffredin is ready to . . . run for the gig himself. While Suffredin has always struck me as a decent guy who really wants to see progressive change, his law firm’s lobbying work—for gambling interests, among others—helped sink his 2008 candidacy for state’s attorney. And the fact that he cast the decisive vote in favor of raising Cook County’s sales tax last year—even if he spelled out his reasons for it—might just come up if he runs for board president.
· Circuit court clerk Dorothy Brown: Count me among those who mistakenly thought that, as a smart, scrappy politician who’d previously won countywide office without the support of Democratic Party regulars, she might capture more than a quarter of the vote against Mayor Daley in 2007. Instead her campaign was so listless and sad that she looked lucky to get the 20 percent she ended up with. It’s hard to imagine that she’s going to suddenly inspire the masses this time around, especially if she’s contending with the savvy Preckwinkle and the desperate Todd Stroger for the black vote. Worse for her, it will be an election about financial management and clean government, and she’s been in the news for inviting her staff to attend her birthday celebrations and donate to her campaigns, and for being chauffered around town in a sweet SUV funded by taxpayers.
· County assessor Jim Houlihan: He’s a serious public official with an Irish name already known countywide. On the other hand, he’s largely known as the taxman. Never mind that he’s not actually responsible for setting tax rates—it’s his name all over the process that values property for tax purposes. In an election where taxes = evil incarnate, he’ll have to spend too much time repenting for the sins of others.
· Sheriff Tom Dart: There’s plenty about the sheriff’s office and county jail to criticize, but Dart has become a master at letting the public know and the cameras film when he believes he’s kicking ass. He’s young and straight-talking and energetic enough to pick up a few independent and liberal voters, and he’s still connected to friends and financial supporters from the old Democratic political networks. If he runs he’ll be a serious contender, and we’ll all get to watch him do it.
· Board president Todd Stroger: He’ll have to fight to hold onto his base in the black community, and he’s not going to get much support anywhere else. The question isn’t whether he’s going to lose—it’s what happens when he does. Has the backlash over his tax hike and patronage hiring made him such a political liability that party elders long loyal to his family will decline to set him up in a cushy management job with the Park District or CTA or prosperous government contractor?