Three West Side candidates were among a bevy of political hopefuls vying for votes at a Feb. 13 candidates’ forum held at historic Quinn Chapel AME Church, 2401 S. Wabash Ave.
State Rep. LaShawn Ford (8th), former alderman Isaac Carothers and Richard Boykin, both running in the Cook County Commissioner First District race, were among the more than 20 candidates seeking state, county and judicial offices attending the forum.
Hosted by Interfaith Illinois Inc., an ecumenical faith-based group, the event was open to all candidates regardless of party affiliation. However several incumbents, including Secretary of State Jesse White and Cook County Assessor Joseph Berrios stressed supporting all slated Democrat candidates. The primary election is March 18.
The forum’s slow start did not allow a lot of questions for the candidates. Others took the opportunity to state their positions and qualifications for their respective offices.
Running unopposed, Ford billed himself as a restorative justice legislator. He said he opposes mandatory minimum sentences because it takes away judges’ discretion. He also wants to reform the juvenile justice system to allow youth charged with misdemeanors to serve probation. Ford said prison time should be reserved for violent offenders.
“Instead of putting them in jail, we make sure we put them on probation… because it connects them with services,” said Ford, who faces his own legal trouble stemming from federal bank fraud charges. “We know if we catch juveniles early then they won’t progress to being adult criminals.”
Responding to a question on bringing infrastructure dollars to Cook County’s First District, Carothers said voters should look at his track record as 29th ward alderman. Carothers served as aldermen for 10 years before being convicted on federal bribery charges and serving time. But as alderman, he said he built schools, senior housing, strip malls and bridges including new Central and Laramie avenues bridges.
“That’s not a problem for me. I’ve done it before,” Carothers said. “I would do the same thing for the district. I will leverage government. I would use city, county and federal dollars in order to bring economic development to the district.”
Boykin also chimed in. He said he would leverage his Washington D.C. connections to bring infrastructure and job training dollars to the district. Boykin said he previously worked with both U.S. Reps Bobby Rush and Danny Davis, with whom he helped pass an amendment to a transportation bill that increased funding for jobs. The amendment, he said, provided grant money to bring inner city residents to jobs in the suburbs.
“I think if we bring infrastructure resources back, that would create jobs for folks from the community,” Boykin said. “I also think if we make our streets safe companies would come back.”
Toni Preckwinkle, Cook County board president, spoke about efforts to reduce the inmate population at Cook County jail. The challenge, she said, lies with pre-trail detention. She noted 10 percent of Cook County jail’s population is serving a prison sentence while 90 percent are awaiting trial. And 70 percent of those awaiting trial are in for nonviolent offenses, she added.
Preckwinkle, who is running unopposed, said, “They are awaiting trial in jail because they have bonds that they can’t pay. I usually say that the jail is at the intersection between racism and poverty in this country.”
Gains, however, have been made, Preckwinkle said. She said the jail population fell below 9,000 “for the first time in a very long time.” But that number can be reduced further with the use of electronic monitoring and personal recognizance bonds.
“If you have a job, a family or you’re in school, what is the likelihood you’re not going to show up for your trial?” Preckwinkle asked.
Sylvester Baker, a candidate for Cook County Sheriff, hopes a third time is the charm. Baker is banking on his 20 years of experience in the sheriff’s office. While there he was detailed to the FBI and federal Drug Enforcement Agency.
His first priority, he said would be creating a countywide policing strategy that includes patrols, investigators, gang and taskforce units to increase public safety. Part of that initiative, he said, would be placing 200 sheriff officers within the city limits in high crime areas like Englewood, Roseland and Lawndale.
Baker also wants to expand the sheriff’s department’s social services to have more youth and mentoring programs to keep kids off the streets. Additionally, he wants to offer GED and vocational programs in the jail, which he said, could be done by partnering with the City Colleges of Chicago.
“I want to bring change to that sheriff’s department,” Baker said.