If you vote in the March 21 Democratic Primary your most important vote may be the last office on the ballot. After the candidates for offices federal, state, county, Metropolitan Water Reclamation District and after page after page of judges is the unpaid office of Proviso Township Democratic Committeeman.
You will get a chance to vote for either the incumbent, Cook County Recorder of Deeds Eugene “Gene” Moore or the challenger, 7th District State Representative Karen Yarbrough.
To be clear, I can’t write about this race as an objective outsider. I have a low opinion of Moore and Yarbrough is a friend.
The Democratic Committeeman has a couple legal duties. S/he votes to replace any Democrat that cannot complete the term of office, e.g. the Democrat dies, gets convicted, appointed to higher office, etc. S/he also names the Democratic judges at polling places. S/he is also supposed to lead the party at the local level and “get out the vote” for elections.
Unofficially, the committeeman is assumed to be powerful and to have a say in a wide variety of issues that most would consider outside the scope of partisan politics. For example, Moore is deeply involved with Proviso Township High School District 209.
Moore has an insurance license and collects an annual commission on the district’s contract with Blue Cross/Blue Shield for employee health plans. The most recent commission has been valued at $160,000. Maywood Trustee Gary Woll”a former Moore supporter who is backing Yarbrough for committeeman”reported in his most recent newsletter that a young man seeking employment at District 209 in the maintenance department was referred to Moore’s committeeman office to apply for the job. This is just one example of how this office touches the lives of taxpayers and citizens in many ways.
Moore has lived in Maywood his whole life. Before running for office Moore sold insurance policies for Metropolitan. In 1994 he was elected state representative. In 1998 he was elected Proviso Township Democratic Committeeman. In 1998 he was also appointed Cook County Recorder of Deeds after Jesse White resigned to serve as Illinois Secretary of State.
Yarbrough is also a Maywoodian. She also is an insurance broker. She was elected state representative on in 2000 in her second try. In 2002 Yarbrough challenged Moore for the committeeman and lost 46-42.
Many have noted the similarity between the course Yarbrough charted for herself and the one taken by Moore. A criticism of Yarbrough that is unfair and inaccurate is that she merely wants what Moore has.
I see little evidence Yarbrough is trying to use local government to build a patronage army like Moore has done. Yarbrough has shown some interest in municipal hires, but it has been to bring in a few highly qualified people at senior levels (Maywood finance director and police chief) not to seed the routine hires with loyalists.
One criticism I do have of Yarbrough is that she, like most Maywood political types, obsesses over controlling Maywood. Yarbrough is running for state representative over a district that is less than 20 percent Maywood; she’s running for committeeman in a township where Maywood casts less than 25 percent of the Democratic votes. Maywood is getting over 25 percent of the Yarbrough campaign’s attention.
Sometimes I get annoyed with Yarbrough and feel like she’s been sucked into the Maywoodian prism where she’s more interested in being Queen Bee of Maywood than ably representing all her constituents and fulfilling her potential. Still I believe she has the potential to accomplish much.
How will Yarbrough use her talents if elected committeeman? Moore and his lieutenant, Emanuel “Chris” Welch (Yarbrough’s challenger for state representative), have antagonized so many people over the years that Yarbrough has many supporters galvanized by their antipathy toward Moore and Welch. Many of these people privately say Yarbrough isn’t “all that,” but that Moore and Welch have some payback coming.
Typically these grumbling Yarbrough supporters don’t like the old school politics historically practiced in Proviso Township. The grumblers perceive that Yarbrough’s commitment to political reform is soft. Yarbrough is a reluctant reformer; she only works on reform when it helps her personally.
I complained to Yarbrough a few months ago on Arnie Bryant’s radio show (Saturdays, 2-3 PM, WJJG, 1530 AM) about the shenanigans at District 209. Yarbrough said that the parents and taxpayers had to get more involved by attending board meetings. Now Yarbrough is organizing hearings on management of District 209, District 88 and District 89. Moore and Welch allies control all three school boards.
The grumblers note that there seems to be an understanding between Yarbrough and Melrose Park Mayor Roy Serpico. Officially Serpico has endorsed Welch and Moore against Yarbrough, but Serpico isn’t pushing his campaign workers to help.
There are a few theories why Serpico’s organization isn’t breaking a sweat for Moore. On a personal level many of Serpico’s people dislike Moore. Also, Serpico has been pushing his campaign workers for a few consecutive elections and they are genuinely tired. And Serpico’s reading of the tea leaves may be that Moore is going to lose and Serpico is merely applying the Chicago wisdom, “Don’t make no waves; don’t back no losers.”
The grumblers are concerned that Yarbrough is going to make peace with Serpico and the rest of local power brokers. The grumblers would prefer to completely clean house of people who have milked the system to become corpulent. Defeating Moore and Welch is the first step toward reforming Proviso politics.
Yarbrough probably has the perspective that her responsibility is to “first do no harm”. It’s her job not to steal from the taxpayers; it’s the job of law enforcement to enforce the law.
In my conversations with Yarbrough she has been receptive to the idea that the kleptocrats”people in government to accumulate personal wealth”have been able to steal because of the negligence of the State’s Attorney’s office and the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission (ARDC).
But will she translate her theoretical understanding into action? How much will she push to eliminate corruption in her district? I don’t think even Yarbrough knows the answer to this question. But if the voters push her on reform she’s more likely to work on it. She’s a politician, so she’s inclined to take the path of least resistance. The grumblers and other reformers need to keep after her so she will keep pushing the law enforcement authorities to protect taxpayers from the predation of the kleptocrats.