Cook County Clerk’s race opens up as Orr announces he won’t run

By Jean Lotus Staff Reporter

Cook County Clerk David Orr discusses voting in the 2016 elections. (Photo courtesy of David Orr’s Facebook)

In a surprise announcement June 21, Cook County Clerk David Orr said he would not seek re-election to the office he’s held for almost 30 years.

“By Dec. 1, 2018 I would have held elective office for 39 years,” Orr, 73, said in a press conference in front of the County building. He served as Chicago alderman and as Chicago mayor for one week after the death of Harold Washington in 1987.

“Now I know I look pretty young, but still that means it would be a commitment for many years, and that’s really the heart of it. I like what I’m doing, but I don’t feel comfortable telling you and the electorate that I’m going to be serving until 2022.”

Cook County Recorder of Deeds Karen Yarborough had announced earlier in the week that she would seek the clerk’s office. Voters supported a Nov. 8, 2016 referendum to eliminate the Recorder of Deeds office and consolidate the department by 2020 with a $12 million budget and 160 employees with the Clerk’s Office.

“As for politics, it’s not a factor here,” Orr said, adding he was certain he could have won an eighth term.

The early deadline seemed to be the June 22 pre-slating gathering of Cook County Democrat bigwigs.

“I plan to submit my credentials to the Cook County Democrats and hope to win the support to get the endorsement,” Yarbrough said June 16. “I will be running.”

Yarbrough said she had no idea Orr would be stepping down.

Cook County Recorder of Deeds and Proviso Democratic Committeeman Karen Yarbrough poses at a Cook County Democrat event May 6. (Chronicle Media)

“David is a friend. He has a stellar record as it relates to being on the forefront of any number of initiatives,” Yarbrough said.

“Even David’s chief of staff didn’t know,” said a source in Orr’s office, who asked for anonymity.

“I don’t think David even knew until a few days ago,” the source said.

Orr, said to be in good health, was enjoying teaching at the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy Studies, the source said.

“I’m certainly not backing away from my commitment to transparent progressive government,” Orr said at the press conference.

Even Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle seemed taken aback by Orr’s announcement.

“I was surprised to learn today of County Clerk David Orr’s decision not seek re-election,” Preckwinkle said in a statement. “David has been a dedicated public servant for decades, both in the Chicago City Council and for the residents of Cook County. He has been a voice for progressive politics, accountability and transparency in government. I thank him for his service and wish him well in his future endeavors.”

Yarbrough, 66, served for 12 years as 7th Dist. State Representative. She also serves as Proviso Democratic Committeeman. At the pre-slating event, she pointed out that she ran unopposed as recorder, but that the voters also supported consolidating the office.

“Entering the Recorder’s office, I inherited processes that were repetitive and inefficient, and a status quo that left property fraud in the community unchallenged. It was an office that was not even given a chance to succeed,” Yarbrough said in her statement to her fellow Democratic committeemen.

Yarbrough said she is best suited to shepherd the consolidation with the Cook County Recorder of Deeds office.

“This is the largest consolidation of any recorder’s office in the country,” Yarbrough said in a phone interview. “We manage 800,000 property transfers yearly.”

Cook County Commissioner Jesus Chuy Garcia (Photo courtesy of Jesus Chuy Garcia’s Facebook)

Yarbrough said she was pleased that almost 60 percent of property records are now filed electronically, whereas the office used in-person record filing under her predecessor Eugene Moore.

“My office serves primarily attorneys and title officers. Now they don’t have to come to the office, they can do it online, rather than doing things in line,” Yarbrough said.

But the recorder has her critics. Recently Yarbrough weathered a Sun-Times report that she had taken top employees, along with spouses and children, on a $12,300 weekend retreat, paid for with tax dollars, at the Grand Geneva Resort and Spa in Wisconsin.

“That retreat was a small investment in the people who help me save the county money, every year I’ve been in office,” she said. “[The retreat] allowed me to focus our attention on what we need to get done without interruption. We had a lot to talk about and [the retreat] was a way to get them with no distractions.”

Employees attended the retreat, which was planned for more than a year, on their own time, she added.

Orr’s announcement generated speculation that another progressive Democrat might be interested in running for clerk. Orr’s office has supported a number of transparency initiatives including a countywide online TIF overlay map, bringing school-board election filings into the clerk’s office, and pushing early voting, same-day registration and new-candidate running for office kits.

Some looked to Cook County commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia as a candidate who might fill Orr’s progressive shoes. Garcia ran unsuccessfully against Rahm Emanuel for Mayor in 2015.

Garcia did not return calls and emails for comment by press time, but on Monday told Sun-Times columnist Dan Mihalopoulos,  “[The Clerk’s office] doesn’t move my spirit.”




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