Teachers union official Tara Stamps picked to fill County Board vacancy

By Bill Dwyer For Chronicle Media

New 1st District Cook County Commissioner Tara Stamps is sworn into office Tuesday night by Judge Michael Clancy. (Photo by Bill Dwyer/For Chronicle Media)

Newly minted Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson got the person he wanted to replace him on the Cook County Board of Commissioners, former mentor and fellow Chicago Teachers Union official Tara Stamps.

When Oak Park Township Committeeman and selection committee chair Don Harmon announced Stamps’ selection Tuesday night, the Foxboro room in Oak Park’s Carleton Hotel erupted in hoots and hollars and extended applause, with chants of “Tar-ah! Tar-ah! Tar-ah!”

Stamps hugged each of her fellow candidates in turn, then accepted warm congratulations from supporters before being sworn into office by Judge Michael Clancy.

Stamps, currently the administrator of the CTU’s New Teacher Development, won’t have long to savor her victory. She must begin to prepare for a costly and hotly contested special election next spring if she wishes to retain her seat past December 2024.

The 1st District of the Cook County Board includes Oak Park, part of Chicago’s West Side and portions of Proviso Township, including Forest Park.

Stamps said it was her history of service that earned her the selection, saying, “I think that I just have a history of service and a history of service leadership and a demonstrated capacity to serve both (suburban and West Side) communities equitably and amplify the lives and the movement of those people that need it most.”

She said her first priority on the board would be “housing and safety. Absolutely.”


There are no more smoke-filled rooms in politics, but the Foxboro Room was certainly people-filled on Tuesday, with those seeking to support their preferred candidate. “We all squeezing in here,” one man quipped as folks edged past him to find a spot against the wall.

In all, 19 people applied for the commissioner seat, and the selection committee called back six for interviews Tuesday night. It was an intense process. After 90 minutes of candidate interviews and an hourlong closed session with several votes, the nine-member First District County Board committee announced its selection to the packed room.

“This has been an extraordinarily difficult decision, based on the caliber and quality of the six candidates we invited back for an interview,” said Harmon, whose day job is president of the Illinois State Senate. He said all six candidates had “significant support. It went several rounds before we reached a consensus.”

As Oak Park Township committeeman, Harmon controlled nearly 29 percent of the weighted vote, plus small proxy votes from two Aldermen who were not present, Daniel La Spata (1st) and Angie Gonzalez-Rodriguez (26th). Had he joined with Proviso Township Committeewoman Karen Yarbrough, who controlled 23 percent of the weighted vote, and who supported Forest Park Mayor Rory Hoskins’ candidacy, the two powerful west suburban politicos could have voted in Hoskins without discussion.

Hoskins, the only lawyer among the group, with 12 years in elective office, made a strong presentation to the committee, demonstrating a solid grasp not only of the policy issues but of concrete ways to address those issues.

But Harmon has not forged the political consensus that has allowed him to repeatedly win election in the diverse 39th Senate District, and become Illinois Senate President, by throwing around either his weight or his weighted votes. He acknowledged the delicate political dance required with such decisions, quipping that “what we really do in this process is make one friend and 19 enemies.”

Harmon has his own connection with Johnson, who worked as his constituent service director 20 years ago. And Stamps, who helped Johnson find his legs when he was starting out as a Chicago schools activist decades ago, has both Johnson’s support and that of the powerful Chicago Teacher’s Union.

Harmon and Yarbrough’s spirit of consensus building was reflected in the vote of 37th Ward Alderwoman Emma Mitts, who Stamps ran against for alderman in 2015 and 2019. Mitts formally nominated her first choice, pastor Ira Acree, but eventually threw her support to Stamps.

Stamps said in a January Teacher’s Union profile that she had “wanted to be the next Oprah Winfrey.” She instead found herself following in the footsteps of her mother, Marion Nzinga Stamps, a legendary Chicago civil rights activist who vociferously opposed the chronic mistreatment of residents in the Cabrini-Green housing projects.

“I just want to make sure everything I do honors my mother,” Stamps said in January.

County commissioner replacement process pits Westside against west suburban politicos