What do you consider to be the major issue(s) facing Cook County?  Key issues facing the County are: ensuring businesses can afford to locate in the County, by maintaining an affordable tax rate; crime; and affordable healthcare for residents that live in Cook County and can’t afford regular care.

What will your number one priority be, if you are elected?
  I have three key areas I would focus on if elected: increasing economic development; working on initiatives to reduce crime; and accessibility to healthcare.

What avenues do you see for increasing business growth and economic development in the County?  Increasing incentives for businesses to locate in Cook County, specifically areas that are underserved.  Working with the State and City on initiatives to reduce crime, which is one of the key issues in luring opportunities to underserved communities.  Education and training our workforce for skilled jobs.

If elected, what will you do to support local farmers, including urban farmers and community gardeners in your district?
  Yes, absolutely.

What avenues do you see to reduce government spending and waste?
  One avenue to reduce government spending and waste is taking a look at City/County/State partnerships on services that overlap.  Based on a report that the County published last year, this is one area where there is significant savings opportunities.  



What do you consider to be the major issue(s) facing Cook County?  The high cost to run government with shrinking revenue.  The 2015 projected shortfall for the budget, attempting to hold the line on tax increases.

What will your number one priority be, if you are elected?  Finding a way to cut cost and increase revenue.

What avenues do you see for further increasing business growth and economic development in the County?  We must expand the use of all current programs, such tax incentive programs, loan programs and create new incentive programs.

What will you do to support local farmers, including urban and community gardeners in your district?
  Create specific grants for urban grants and community gardeners.  Foster social enterprises that encompass growing fruits and vegetables in the city and link it to job development. Meet with local farmers to work on a agenda to promote advancement in the industry.

What avenues do you see to reduce government spending and waste?  We need to consider consolidation of some offices and eradicate any duplication of services.  We need to centralize the purchasing as much as possible of all the executive offices and all of County government.

Please, briefly describe your background and qualifications for the office you are seeking.  I have vast experience in government having worked in government for over 35 years and served as an elected official for 11 years.



Facebook: pages/Ronald-Lawless/1399739660244113

What do you consider to be the major issue(s) facing Cook County?
  There are several issues facing Cook County today.  These include:

Cook County lacks a truly integrated public transportation system.  The Cook County board should take a leading role in coordinating services.  The board should work with the RTA, CTA, METRA and Amtrak to create and integrated rail system with coordinated bus service.  The board should also consider alternative forms of inter-agency and intergovernmental governance and financing in order to accomplish this goal.  There are many models in other metropolitan areas to start with.  Such leadership can also lead to more realistic funding sources.  For example, Los Angeles recently used new and expanded Federal regulations to effectively fund and implement coordinated, regional planning and infrastructure developments.  This directly affects County government operations and finances.  More official public transportation reduces the cost of maintaining existing county roads while significantly cutting the need for new road expansion in construction projects.  It also serves to improve the environment.  Fewer fossil fuel vehicles reduce carbon released into the atmosphere.  Finally, such improvements are urgently necessary so that workers across the county can travel to work more efficiently at realistic prices.

Protection of farm land and open space both for healthy habitat (people, plants and animals) is important for everyone living in the County.  At farmers markets across the District, there is increasing participation by community and other alternative urban gardening programs.  This increases city dwellers’ awareness of the value of locally grown foods as well.  For these reasons, it is important for Cook County government to work with other governmental units in the region to protect farmland and encourage the production and distribution of locally grown food in every community.

Restoration of existing housing, especially homes and multi-unit buildings in towns and cities is a critical problem.  The Cook County Board is taking steps to respond.  The County Board President worked closely with other Commissioners to develop a land bank.  Its purpose is to facilitate the redevelopment of abandoned, foreclosed or dilapidated housing.  These structures should be reclaimed and rehabbed.  This would reduce the need to provide housing without destroying farmland and adding to suburban sprawl.  It would also provide jobs for Cook County residents.  And it has the potential to provide much needed affordable housing options in communities that need them the most.

Cook County is blessed with access to clean water.  We must support the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District and other waste management systems in cleaning up our rivers and streams.  We must also develop water conservation programs such as installing green roofs and rain collection systems on all structures.  We must work with local governments to require the use of gray water reclamation systems in all new structures and eventually in all existing structures in the County, ensuring that our clean drinking water is protected and conserved.  In addition every municipality in Cook County should be charged with separating the rain water from the sewers, thereby ensuring that our groundwater is restored, that clean water is returned to our lakes and rivers.  These methods of conserving water locally are important ways to respond to continuing pressures for clean water needed by communities without access to Lake Michigan water.  We must not unthinkingly increase withdrawals from the Lake Michigan watershed.

What will your number one priority be, if you are elected?  The Cook County Forest Preserves are a priceless treasure and should be managed by people who are skilled and knowledgeable about trees, native habitat, and all flora and fauna that the forest preserves “preserve”.  The County Board has recently received a plan to improve the Forest Preserve District.  It includes restoring native plants as well as the removal of invasive species.  It also includes the acquisition of new, environmentally sensitive land as well as additions that support the existing system.  This is a very important goal for the County Board, following only overall reductions in expenditures and improvements to existing services.

Therefore Cook County should follow DuPage County’s example of creating a separate Forest Preserve District Board staffed by educated, experienced arborists and naturalists.  In addition to protecting our 69,000 acres of preserves, an independent board should be actively working to include ALL Cook County residents as stewards of this treasured space by creating programs to allow everyone to use it wisely for recreation and to volunteer to help reduce litter and illegal dumping.  This can be achieved in many ways: some examples include use of the District for school children’s educational programs, increasing community gardening and expansion of Sheriff Dart’s program employing detainees to remove litter and illegally dumped refuse.

What avenues do you see for increasing business growth and economic development in the County?  It is extremely important to support small and local businesses that are self-sustaining.  Attracting residents and visitors to the Forest Preserves will increase the need for small business development near the preserves, providing services visitors can use.  These may include such things as food and beverages, canoe and bicycle access and service, etc.

Some of the land in the preserves and other land owned by the County can be used for developing nurseries.  For example, tree nurseries can support continued maintenance of the preserves while serving as job training and work experience opportunities for youth and adults in the County.

There is land that is not appropriate for recreation or wildlife habitat.  It could be used for several purposes.  These include composting and community gardening.  Residents could grow food, leasing land as urban farms.  There produce could be sold to local stores.  We must work together to find new and innovative ways to introduce the benefits of the Forest Preserve system to city residents.  Increasing coordination and collaboration with volunteer organizations will have a beneficial effect as well.  This could free the existing staff to accomplish more sensitive or urgently needed work.

If elected, what will you do to support local farmers, including urban farmers and community gardeners in your district? 
There are a number of small, community-based urban gardening projects across the city.  These projects serve a number of valuable purposes.  First, they provide a means of work and community involvement in low-income communities.  Next they offer fresh and healthy produce in communities that otherwise have limited options for such foods.  I would like to work with the small groups, helping them learn from their experiences, sharing resources as appropriate.  County staff can help with organizing functions.  And County government can help find resources beyond tax revenues to fund these tasks.  I would like to work with community groups across Chicago’s west side and Proviso Township to help foster individual neighborhood programs’ growth.

Farms located near preserves benefit from plant diversity that attracts pollinators and “good” bugs that are natural predators reducing the need to use pesticides for crops enabling farmers and gardeners to grow organically.  County government can certainly coordinate with other entities such as university agricultural extension programs, bringing both technical knowledge and academic research assistance to local farmers and community gardeners alike.

Every preserve should provide some land near denser urban areas for residents to use as community gardens.  This purpose should be integrated into the current planning for renewal and expansion of the Forest Preserves.  This is a way to attract more users and stewards while contributing to the overall well-being of County residents.

We already have examples of community, supported, local farmers markets.  Some even provide local assistance to help SNAP recipients purchase healthy food.  We should continue to help each community adapt such models as appropriate for their neighborhoods.  We can support collaboration among farmers too.  New farmers can be locally recruited, encouraged to grow crops for local consumption.  This produce will be safer and healthier and, of course, eagerly purchased by County residents.  County government can and should work with state and federal officials to find resources to help bring local farms produce to the neediest.

Finally, composting in individual homes remains a goal for many.  We must help neighborhoods in communities throughout the County to work on a variety of composting methodologies that suit local communities.  Importantly, we need to develop ways to compost the large amount of food waste produced in schools, homes, restaurants, and institutions all over the County.  This waste could be composted and used as soil amendments for farmers, saving them money and provide a much higher quality, clean product at a lower cost.  At the same time, it will save the waste producers money and reduce the amount of carbon-producing waste going into our landfills.  Cook County can help identify land throughout the County as composting sites.

What avenues do you see to reduce government spending and waste?  By creating a separate board for the Forest Preserves, we can save money in several ways.  First, the Forest Preserve Board can be selected by people in the community.  They can more directly hold Commissioners accountable and bring concerns, expecting greater focus and attention.  This is hindered with the current structure, where Commissioners literally serve two boards.

Separation of these duties structurally gives an independent Forest Preserve boards its professional staff, and community volunteers greater focus on improving the efficiency and effectiveness of operations.  A second consideration includes more localized planning and operations management.  A separate board can pay greater attention to the needs and interest of neighborhoods, groups with special interests, and those with special use needs.  Finally, cooperative agreements between the district and local communities will benefit all parties.  Shared services should include security and policing, concessions management, as well as road and trail maintenance.  

Please, briefly describe your background and qualifications for the office you are seeking. 
I have worked closely with local residents concerned with environmental issues.  This includes members of the local green party caucus, volunteer groups concerned with environmental issues and community advocates concerned with health and healthy eating issues.

My professional background includes helping local neighborhoods understand both government processes and practices, as well as how to influence them.  My combination of local voluntary experience, volunteer consulting with community organizations, the professional duties explaining government processes and procedures to agencies and communities is unparalleled by other candidates.

Finally, as the PTA’s state legislative director, I am familiar with working with local groups at the neighborhood level, helping them to understand governance issues and achieve their goals.  I would like to bring this experience and knowledge to the task of including more County residents in planning and using the Cook County Forest Preserves.


BLAKE SERCYE Democratic candidate for Cook County Commissioner, District 1

Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/pages/Blake-Sercye/477205559040287
Twitter: @BlakeSercye            

What do you consider to be the major issue(s) facing Cook County?  I believe that three major issues face our county:  reducing the population and recidivism rate at Cook County Jail; ensuring health care reform is administered effectively so that our hospitals are adequately staffed and county residents receive the health care they deserve; and finding innovative ways to put people back to work while ameliorating the crisis of foreclosed and abandoned properties in our county.

I discuss each of these priorities, in turn, below.

Cook County Jail
Overcrowding is a serious problem at Cook County Jail.  According to the Chicago Sun-Times, the population at Cook County Jail is very close to full capacity at about 10,000 inmates currently.  Too many inmates are held at the jail despite not having been convicted of a crime due to their inability to post bond. Many inmates have no history of felonies or violent offenses and are being held on low-level drug crimes. Housing inmates is costly to taxpayers. It costs about $140 each day to house an inmate, but only about $30 to monitor an inmate on supervised release.  More importantly, overcrowding puts correctional officers at increased risk as a result of having to monitor a larger number of inmates. Fortunately, Cook County has taken significant steps in reducing the jail population by decreasing the amount requested for bond payments.

However, concentrating on reducing the recidivism rate would also have a tremendous positive effect on the jail population. As commissioner, my office will help ex-offenders utilize the sealing and expungement programs offered by the state and non-profit entities that exist throughout our county. Before working at Jenner & Block, I handled sealing and expungement matters as a public interest fellow at the Chicago Legal Clinic in the Austin neighborhood. Too often, rehabilitated ex-offenders are unable to get jobs due to their criminal records. Without jobs, ex-offenders regress to the behavior that led to their incarceration. I will help residents of the 1st District understand the sealing and expungement process so that they can clear their criminal records, find jobs, and stay out of Cook County Jail.

Additionally, although the laws that govern sealing and expungement are state laws, I will be an advocate for increasing the number of sealable or expungeable non-violent offenses.

Health Care Reform
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act ("Affordable Care Act"), commonly referred to as "Obamacare," presents an amazing opportunity for the Cook County Health and Hospital System (“CCHHS”). Early enrollment in CountyCare, Cook County's implementation of the Affordable Care Act, has been critical for reducing the taxpayer subsidy of CCHHS. According to Crain's, early enrollment in CountyCare had a positive net effect on the county budget of about $28 million as of this past summer. Similarly, increased access to Medicaid is expected to produce a $74 million net increase.  As commissioner, I will continue to educate 1st District residents about CountyCare and Medicaid enrollment, while working to ensure that CCHHS is competitive with other hospital systems.

Not only must we continue to increase CountyCare and Medicaid enrollment, but we must also attract residents who have access to private insurance. Reimbursement rates for private insurance are significantly higher than federal reimbursements. Attracting more private insurance dollars means that we will be able to allocate more money to issues like mental health, job creation, and pension funding. In order to make CCHHS a place where privately insured patients want to receive medical treatment, we must hire adequate levels of qualified and skilled employees.  Additionally, in 2012, Governor Pat Quinn appointed me to the Illinois Medical District Commission ("IMDC") where I have advocated for investment in improvements to the medical district that will help make CCHHS a more attractive place for residents of Cook County to receive medical care. My fellow commissioners and I have approved an intergovernmental agreement with Cook County and CCHHS which will allow for public works projects in the IMDC to be built with greater expediency. This will allow CCHHS and its surrounding environment to be a place that better serves the medical needs of Cook County residents.

Foreclosure and Abandoned Property Crisis
The foreclosure crisis hit Cook County, particularly the 1st District, very hard. According to Crain's, in some places within Cook County nearly 1 in 6 homes is vacant.  The Cook County Land Bank Authority ("CCLBA") is an innovative tool that can help us put property back to use and people back to work. The CCLBA is able to acquire property and clear title in the fraction of time that it takes private developers. CCLBA also rehabilitates and manages properties before determining how it will dispose of property. Land banking can be used as a tool to restore distraught properties throughout our county and create labor construction contracts for qualified residents.

What will your number one priority be, if you are elected?  Before legislation and policy, I think it is essential that elected officials be ethical officer holders who remember that their job is to serve their constituents rather than themselves or political insiders.  If elected, I will ensure that my office is not tainted with corruption.  I will not engage in patronage or nepotism and I have also pledged to never engage in lobbying.  I will make my office transparent to the public by holding “Commissioner on Your Corner” information sessions throughout the 1st District at grocery stores, places of worship, and community meetings. During these sessions, I will discuss a range of topics regarding my office’s work and also hear constituents’ concerns and suggestions.  

In addition to maintaining an ethical and transparent office, my top priority will be helping people in the 1st District understand their eligibility for health care as a result of the Affordable Care Act. I want to work with community organizations throughout the 1st District to help set goals for CountyCare and private insurance enrollment.  We must make sure that everyone in our county who is eligible has health insurance so that they can receive the care they need and we can reduce the taxpayer subsidy of our hospital system.

What avenues do you see for increasing business growth and economic development in the County?  Land banking can be a tool that helps promote business growth in our county.  I believe that land bank funds should be used to target places in our county that have suffered the most from the foreclosure and vacancy crisis, and are most in need of business development.  We must use land bank funds to create more affordable housing in our county. If we do this, we will be able to reduce the amount of abandoned property in our community. This will increase our tax base and the number of people frequenting businesses within our county.  Moreover, we should use land banking to help encourage businesses to build in communities where they are needed most.  This can be done by using the land bank as a tool to clear title on property, rehabilitate the property, and then offer the property to large or small businesses as an incentive for locating in underserved communities.  Encouraging businesses of all kinds to build in our community by providing rehabilitated property and land as an incentive will increase our county’s tax base and employment rate.  

In order to encourage business growth, I also believe that we must continue to search for efficient uses of land in our county by partnering whenever possible with other branches and sections of government.  In essence, this is one of the challenges presented to the Illinois Medical District.  My fellow IMD commissioners along with our staff are always trying to find creative and innovative ways to exchange and use land in cooperation with the State of Illinois, the City of Chicago, and other entities.  For example, we recently exchanged a parcel of land owned by the IMD with land owned by the University of Illinois at Chicago (“UIC”).  By exchanging land, both parties were able to bring new dollars in federal and private funding into our county.  My experience on the IMD has convinced me that we must continue to find development opportunities like this in order to increase business growth in our county.  

Finally, I will help organize people in the 1st District and throughout the county to help advocate for the use of TIF funds for schools and community-based economic development.  I applaud the work that Cook County Clerk David Orr has done in placing TIF information on property tax bills in an attempt to educate taxpayers about the availability of TIF funds for community development. Increasing our investment in education is essential because better schools will mean smarter students who will serve as the drivers of future business innovation.  Better schools will also increase the number of people who live in our county, therefore, leading to more tax dollars for investment in business development.  It is also imperative that we ensure that economic development in our county is not limited to a few locations downtown or on the lakeshore.  Instead, we must invest TIF funds into small business incubation programs and business district development throughout our county.  We must use TIF funds to empower our communities and small business owners if we wish to increase economic development in Cook County.

If elected, what will you do to support local farmers, including urban farmers and community gardeners in your district?  The best way for us to support local farmers is to increase our investment in urban farming and community gardening, and to educate the people in our communities about the importance of local farmers.  I live on Midway Park in Chicago’s Austin neighborhood and on the very block that I live, about 200 feet away from my home, there is an urban farm.  I visited the farm about a month ago and saw many children interacting with the goats and chickens the farmers keep.  I also learned that my campaign manager has taken her three-year old niece once or twice to the farm to feed the goats.  I see an opportunity to develop urban farming into a staple in our community by making it an essential component of improving our local economy and educating our children.  I believe that we should use land bank funds to acquire and provide land to urban farmers at no cost or reduced cost and with tax incentives in exchange for urban farmers hiring people in our community and partnering with local schools.

For example, Austin Polytechnical Academy (APA) is a high school located about a half-mile from the urban farm near my house.  Between APA and the urban farm there are several vacant lots that could be used for urban farming. I would advocate for the county providing some of this land to urban farmers at no cost in exchange for them agreeing to find ways to grant APA access to the farm in order to give students real world science lessons.  Not only would this give additional land to urban farming and improve our children’s education, but it would also create the next generation of urban farmers by making our children feel more invested in their community.

Additionally, I believe that urban farms can serve as epicenters for teaching both children and adults in our communities about the importance of eating healthy, organic, and locally grown food.  As commissioner, I will find ways for local farms to pair with non-profits and private entities to provide health food and nutrition education to community residents.

In sum, I believe that the county must invest land and tax-incentives into urban farming. Local farming will become an indispensible part of Cook County if we can integrate urban farms and community gardening into the fabric of our communities.

What avenues do you see to reduce government spending and waste?  First and foremost, we must rid our county of nepotism and patronage.  Nepotism and patronage are costly to taxpayers because oftentimes it leads public employers to overlook the best and most qualified applicants.  Nepotism and patronage also causes the public to distrust their elected officials.  I support a countywide ban on nepotism and patronage, and I will never hire any of my relatives while serving as an elected official.  I will also not make explicit or complicit arrangements with other elected officials in which I would agree to hire their relatives in exchange for them agreeing to hire mine.  I believe that maintaining the public trust- especially in county government – is essential to effective leadership as an elected official.

Also, we must streamline county services as much as possible in order to ensure that taxpayers’ dollars are spent efficiently and wisely.  We must consider merging duplicative functions of the county clerk and recorder offices.  Due to their sheer size, we must maintain a keen eye toward eliminating patronage and nepotism in these offices.  In addition, we should also reassign staff, especially administrative staff, from these offices to other places where they might be more need like the Cook County Health and Hospital System or our community clinics which are likely to be considerably more busy as a result of the increased health care enrollment.

Please, briefly describe your background and qualifications for the office you are seeking.  I am uniquely qualified to represent the 1st District due to my personal and professional experiences.

First, I understand the plight of many people in our county.  I was born and raised in the Austin neighborhood to a single-parent mother of two children.  We certainly had hard times growing up, but I always like to say that I was rich as a child because of the love that my mother gave me and the values she instilled in me.  With her support and considerable hard work I was able to graduate from Princeton University with honors and the University of Chicago Law School. I now work as an associate in the litigation department of Jenner & Block, LLP in Chicago.

Additionally, I have extensive relationships with people throughout the 1st District and Cook County.  I attended grammar school at St. John Lutheran in Forest Park, and high school at Fenwick in Oak Park. As a result, I have been able to establish and maintain relationships for many years with people throughout the 1st District – both city and suburban.  I have developed relationships with people throughout our county through my extensive political experience. I served as the political director for Mayor Rahm Emanuel's 2011 campaign and as a field coordinator in Governor Quinn's 2010 general election campaign. These campaigns gave me considerable political experience and allowed me to develop relationships with people throughout Cook County.

I have also been active serving the 1st District and our county for years. I serve on the boards of Bethel New Life, a community development organization on Chicago’s West Side, and Umoja Student Development Corporation, an organization that helps our youth graduate from high school and succeed in college.  I also serve on the junior board of Christ the King Jesuit College Preparatory High School in Austin and on the associate board of the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law, a national advocate for achieving social and economic justice for low-income people.  I am the Chair of the Legal Redress Committee of the West Side Branch of the NAACP, a leadership position that allows me to help single-parent mothers and victims of employment discrimination receive the legal assistance they need.   Before entering private legal practice, I helped rehabilitated residents of our district get jobs by handling sealing and expungement matters.

I also have experience in business and land development in our county.  In 2012, Governor Pat Quinn appointed me to the Illinois Medical District Commission ("IMDC"), a special-use zoning district located just west of downtown Chicago. As a member of the IMDC, I have been an advocate for goal-oriented growth and development of health care in Cook County. I have also worked to ensure that projects within the Illinois Medical District are constructed with local input and labor.

Most of all, I have a heart for public service and a desire to give back to my community. I want to ensure that government works for the people of the 1st District and Cook County- not political insiders who think that government exists to make them rich. I know that working together we will move Cook County forward.




What do you consider to be the major issue(s) facing Cook County?
The major issues I consider facing Cook County include: Cook County health and hospital services, economic development and sustainability, criminal justice, and mental health services.

What will your number one priority be, if you are elected? My number one priority is economic development and sustainability.

What avenues do you see for increasing business growth and economic development in the County?
To increase business growth and economic development requires that the tax structure be strategically applied to lower tax burdens for businesses and residents. As Cook County Commissioner, I would support expanding the tax base and re-establishing a trustworthy relationship with businesses, launch a public information data portal site that will provide resources and advisory services including e-learning and webinars, and create more transparency regarding the availability of commercial property for business expansion and/or development.

If elected, what will you do to support local farmers, including urban farmers and community gardeners in your district? If elected, I will support the expansion of community based agriculture businesses and promote small business development. I would also create initiatives and funding sources that promote environmental laws and policies in support of agriculture and education.

What avenues do you see to reduce government spending and waste? As County Commissioner, I would seek to improve internal controls, a comprehensive review of capital financing and allocation of spending, and I would maximize federal and state grants for county operations.

Please, briefly describe your background and qualifications for the office you are seeking.
I consider myself uniquely qualified because I was raised in the District, raised my family in the District and am a business owner. I have been a community organizer and volunteer in the community for over 26 years. I have worked as Chief of Staff to two Alderman and currently working for the Cook County Commissioner of the 1st District. I am the first person of contact when the residents are seeking assistance.  I know what the issues are and I know how to get the work done.