With two months to go, the race for Cook County Circuit Clerk is an odd mix of wonky discussion on how to run a judicial bureaucracy -- and hyberbolic charges and counter-charges by 12-year incumbent Dorothy Brown and challenger Rick Munoz, who has been Chicago's 22nd Ward alderman since 1993.
Substantively, the race centers on how to modernize and make more efficient a Circuit Court that handles 2.4 million cases each year, has an operating budget of more than $100 million, and has a workforce of more than 2,100 employees. Both candidates say it is their priority to start electronically filing all court documents – which will make documents easier to find and harder to lose.
Munoz’s campaign makes the point that Brown has had 12 years to implement electronic filing and that Cook County is behind much smaller Illinois county courts like DuPage. Brown has said that her hands have been tied by Illinois Supreme Court decisions and that she did start a pilot program last year.
But it is hard for Cook County voters to get to the bottom of who would do a better job modernizing the office because both campaigns are focused on assailing their opponent.
Munoz’s campaign is fixated on Brown's mini-scandals, like the incumbent paying her “Director of Investigations” to moonlight as her chauffeur.
Munoz’s campaign also creates their own scandals – like that Brown won’t debate. “Dorothy has refused to respond to our challenge to do a debate in every Cook County congressional district,” claims Munoz campaign spokesman Andrew Sharp. “We’ll debate anytime, anywhere.”
But Brown’s campaign office said in a statement that the incumbent “would love to debate and has not refused to do so.”
Brown’s campaign, meanwhile is focused on the “fraud” committed by the Munoz campaign – that the challenger filed 28,000 phony signatures in his petition for clerk. But while Brown continues to publicly make the charge, the formal objection to Munoz’s signatures was actually withdrawn from the Illinois Board of Elections.
In fact, the Brown campaign did not challenge enough of Munoz’s signatures to successfully throw him off the ballot, even if the Board of Elections had verified every single challenged signature.
Ultimately, the race could come down to endorsements and what they may reveal about each candidate before the March 20 Democratic primary. Brown has picked up the endorsements of many big names including Governor Pat Quinn and Speaker of the House Mike Madigan.
Munoz, though, is proud of the endorsements that he has received from noted progressives like Alderman Scott Waguespack and former City of Chicago Inspector General David Hoffman. The biggest endorsement has come from Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle
Indeed, the most cogent argument the Munoz campaign provides is that like Preckwinkle, Munoz can transition from the City Council to reform county government – and that he already has a strong working relationship with the Cook County President. “A lot of what we envision is implementing some of the reforms that President Preckwinkle has put forward,” Sharp says.