Preckwinkle defends party loyalty pledge as Cook County Democrats hear from challengers to Assessor Fritz Kaegi and Sheriff Tom Dart

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Top Cook County Democrats began the first of two days of endorsement sessions for next year’s primary ballot on Monday, hearing from Assessor Fritz Kaegi and Sheriff Tom Dart as well as from insurgent challengers to their reelection.

The countywide panel of the Cook County Democratic Party later voted to recommend the full committee of party slatemakers endorse Kaegi and Dart when they meet on Tuesday, at which time they will also consider the contested race for Illinois secretary of state.

An undercurrent of his year’s slating session was a loyalty pledge asking candidates who win party slating to sign a “solemn oath” not to back candidates for other offices who aren’t slated.

Carmen Navarro Gercone, a 26-year veteran of the sheriff’s office who rose to first assistant deputy superintendent and is now challenging Dart, told slate-makers that she would refuse to take the pledge, accusing the party of “using scare tactics to protect its incumbents.”

“Two women of color, myself included, are running against incumbents whose offices have a hand in crime and property taxes—the two most important issues to our citizens,” said Gercone, a Latina. “The party should honor the choice of the voters who elected their committeepersons to represent their communities, not the machine.”

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, who also is county Democratic chair, defended the pledge as she also voiced support for Dart, who has been sheriff since 2006.

“If you’re on a boat, you want everybody rowing in the same direction. We’re going to support people and we expect them to row in the same direction,” Preckwinkle said. “If you’re not prepared to work with other people that are on the slate, you shouldn’t ask for slating.”

Appearing before the slate-making session, Dart acknowledged that with an increase in violent crime, “the challenges are many and they keep increasing.”

Dart said the sheriff’s office, working with the Chicago Police Department, would be expanding its presence in the River North area within a month, establishing an around-the-clock office with eight to 15 officers rotating throughout the day.

“If you want to be an independent, then go that route,” Dart said of the loyalty pledge. “If I’m slated, I’ll support the slate. I have in the past.”

Other challengers to Dart appearing before slate-makers were Nolan Rivera, a 27-year Chicago Police Department veteran, and LaTonya Ruffin, a 15-year deputy sheriff.

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The panel reviewing countywide races overwhelmingly recommended Dart be slated by the full party.

Kaegi, who defeated controversial longtime assessor Joseph Berrios in 2018, said reforms he has implemented have “ensured the very wealthy and big corporations are paying their fair share, in turn reducing the homeowners’ share of the burden” of property taxes.

Kaegi is being challenged by Kari Steele, the president of the board of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District.

“Equity, transparency and diversity have been hallmarks of my career,” Steele told slate-makers. “I’ve been a loyal Democrat, a public servant that has stayed engaged. And when I am your next Cook County assessor, I won’t just talk about it. I’ll be about it.”

The countywide panel voted to recommend that Kaegi get the full committee’s backing, just eclipsing the number of weighted votes of panel members needed.

On Tuesday, after statewide Democrats present their credentials, the full county party organization will vote to issue its list of slated candidates for voters to consider in the June 28 Democratic primary.