Cook County Democratic Organization
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Cook County Democratic Organization

The Cook County Democratic Party is a political party which represents voters in 50 wards in the city of Chicago and 30 suburban townships of Cook County. The organization has dominated Chicago politics (and consequently, Illinois politics) since the 1930s. It relies on a tight organizational structure of ward and township committeeperson (until 2018 legal name change, "committeeman") to elect candidates.[1] At the height of its influence under Richard J. Daley in the 1960s, it was one of the most powerful political machines in American history. Party members have been convicted of public corruption. By the beginning of the 21st century the party had largely ceased to function as a machine due to the decline of political patronage following the issuing of the Shakman Decrees. The current Chair is Toni Preckwinkle.

Organization and leadership

Article I of the by-laws of the Cook County Democratic Party states that the party exists to "attract, endorse, and support qualified Democratic candidates for office, to develop positions on issues of public importance, to advance the ideals and principles of the Democratic Party, and to seek to improve the lives of the people of Cook County through effective, efficient, and fair government." The by-laws also state that the party must "promote Democratic political activity in Cook County and encourage broad and diverse political participation by Cook County Democrats regardless or race, color, creed, national origin, gender, physical ability or sexual orientation ... and take an active role in county, state, and national political efforts which have an impact upon the people of Cook County."[2]

The party was chaired by 31st ward committeeman Joseph Berrios from 2007 until April 2018, when Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle replaced him.[3][4] The Executive Committee has eight other officers: two Executive Vice-Chairs, First Vice-Chair, City Vice-Chair, Suburban Vice-Chair, Secretary, Treasurer, and Sergeant-At-Arms. Each of the 50 wards of Chicago and the 30 suburban townships has its own committee and is represented in the Central Committee by an elected committeeperson (until 2018 legal name change, "committeeman").[1]

In suburban Cook County, regional groups, such as the Southland Democrats, co-ordinate activities with their local Democratic township organizations and their committeemen.[5] Article IV, Section 4 of the By-laws of the Cook County Democratic Party allows the Suburban Vice-Chair (a position currently held by Illinois State Senator Don Harmon) the authority to "convene caucuses and meetings, solicit support for the organization, assist the County Chair in any matters upon request, coordinate activities concerning recommendations for endorsements of candidate, and bring before the Central Committee issues of particular interest."[6]


As of early 2020:

See also Incumbent Chicago Democratic Party Committeepeople.


Chairman Roger C. Sullivan, circa 1913

Early history

Cook County was created on 15 January 1831 and it was named after Daniel Cook. Cook had been one of the earliest and youngest statesmen in Illinois history and he was a registered Democrat in Randolph County.[7] By 1837, local Democrats were winning electoral victories under the leadership of William B. Ogden. Ogden recruited Irish immigrants into the party. Their loyalty to native Democrats was established in return for petty political favors and an occasional elected office.[8] The careers of Irish Democrats from this period, such as John Comiskey from the Blue Island area, were still limited by anti-Irish discrimination.[9] Prior to the American Civil War, the city of Chicago and Cook County had created a strong two-party tradition.[10] The local Democratic Party grew stronger in the decades that followed the Great Chicago Fire due in part to an influx of new immigrants from eastern and southern Europe.[11] By 1890, Roger Charles Sullivan had accumulated major influence within the tumultuous Cook County Democratic Party. He would come to dominate the organization for two decades and he was a national figure during the age when urban political bosses reached the height of their power and prestige.[12] After his death, he was followed as chairman by George Brennan in 1920.[13]

Prior to the death of party chairman George Brennan in 1928,[14] the Democratic Party in Cook County was divided along ethnic lines – the Irish, Polish, Italian, and other groups each controlled politics in their neighborhoods and municipalities. Under the leadership of Anton Cermak, a Czech American, the party combined its ethnic bases into one large organization. With the organization behind him, Cermak was able to win election as mayor of Chicago in 1931, an office he held until his assassination in 1933.[15][16] After Cermak's death, Patrick Nash and Edward J. Kelly consolidated the Cook County Democratic Party into a political machine.[17][18]

Nash and Kelly were able to bring African-Americans, who had been predominantly Republicans since the Civil War, into the Democratic Party.[18] Nash died in 1943 and Kelly took over as Chairman of the Cook County Democratic Party. The extensive corruption that took place during Kelly's tenure caused him to become unelectable.[19]Jacob Arvey assumed the position of Chairman of the organization after Kelly's ouster in 1947.[20][21] Arvey put reformers on the slate, such as Martin H. Kennelly for mayor, Paul Douglas for United States Senate, and Adlai Stevenson for governor of Illinois.[22] During the early years of the 1950s, Joseph L. Gill – George Brennan's brother-in-law – replaced Arvey as Chairman of the party. His role was more of a caretaker than that of a political leader.[21]

Under Richard J. Daley

The Democratic committeemen of Cook County elected Richard J. Daley as their chairman in 1953 and the Democratic committeemen of Chicago slated him as their mayoral candidate in 1955. He served as chairman for 22 years and as mayor for twenty years.[21][23][24] This was accomplished with the help and support of William L. Dawson.[21] In return, an African-American "sub-machine" led by Dawson was created under the umbrella of the regular machine. In the predominantly African-American wards, Dawson was able to act as his own political boss. He amassed a considerable power base by awarding political appointments to his allies,[25] just as Daley did in the larger machine. However, Dawson's machine had to continually support the regular machine in order to retain its own clout.[26]

Presidential Election Results 1960-2016
Year Democrat Republican
2016 73.93% 1,611,946 20.79% 453,287
2012 73.88% 1,488,537 24.59% 495,542
2008 76.48% 1,582,973 23.05% 477,038
2004 70.25% 1,439,724 29.15% 597,405
2000 68.63% 1,280,547 28.65% 534,542
1996 66.79% 1,153,289 26.73% 461,557
1992 58.21% 1,249,533 28.20% 605,300
1988 55.77% 1,129,973 43.36% 878,582
1984 51.02% 1,112,641 48.40% 1,055,558
1980 51.99% 1,124,584 39.60% 856,574
1976 53.44% 1,180,814 44.69% 987,498
1972 46.01% 1,063,268 53.41% 1,234,307
1968 50.56% 1,181,316 41.11% 960,493
1964 63.18% 1,537,181 36.82% 895,718
1960 56.37% 1,378,343 43.33% 1,059,607

Daley helped turn out the vote for John F. Kennedy in the 1960 presidential election. Kennedy won Illinois by 9,000 votes, yet won Cook County by 450,000 votes, with some Chicago precincts going to Kennedy by over 10 to 1 margins.[] Illinois' 27 electoral votes helped give Kennedy the majority he needed.[27] Chicago was selected to host the 1968 Democratic National Convention. Political commentator Len O'Connor described this period as Richard J. Daley's "High Water Mark" and described the Cook County Democratic Party at the time as one of the most powerful political machines in American history.[23]

Under George Dunne and Edward Vrdolyak

The Shakman Decrees introduced judicial oversight of City and County hiring, reducing the number of voters who owed their livelihoods to the Democratic party.[28] The 1968 convention had ended in disaster. The Walker Report concluded that a "police riot" had taken place at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago.[29]NBC News had televised the event and switched back and forth between demonstrators being beaten by the police in front of the convention hall and the festivities over Humphrey's victory inside.[30] Racial tension over issues such as urban renewal in Woodlawn and Lincoln Park, red lining, open housing and public school desegregation alienated African-Americans and Latinos voters. Though Daley himself never faced any criminal charges, a number of his associates did, including Thomas Keane and Arvey. After Daley's death in 1976, no mayor has served as chairman of the Cook County Democratic Party.[31]Michael Bilandic, Daley's successor as mayor, lost in a 1979 mayoral primary to Jane Byrne.[32] In Bilandic's obituary, The New York Times wrote that the operation of the Cook County Democratic Party as a political machine ended during Bilandic's mayoralty.[33]

Byrne's base of support was on the Northwest side of Chicago, and to a lesser extent the Southeast and Southwest, and she also benefited from independent African-American electoral support.[34] Originally a Richard J. Daley appointee, Byrne did not have the backing of the influential ward committeemen such as John Daley, Michael Madigan, or Thomas Hynes. For a short while after Byrne's election Richard J. Daley's successor as Democratic County Party Chairman George Dunne supported her.[35] In 1979, Oak Park Democratic committeeman and State Senator since 1970, Philip J. Rock became the Illinois State Senate's top Democrat. He would serve as such for the next 14 years and he would retire as the longest serving President of the Senate and Majority Leader in state history.[36]

Jimmy Carter and Chairman Richard J. Daley at the 1976 Illinois State Democratic Convention, held in Cook County.

George Dunne had a falling out with the mayor and in 1982 he lost the party chairmanship to 10th Ward committeeman Edward Vrdolyak, an ally of Jane Byrne. When Richard J. Daley's son Richard M. Daley challenged Byrne for mayor in 1983, a coalition of African-American, Hispanic, and "good government" or "lakefront liberals" coalesced.[37] Latinos who had been displaced for years from the downtown and lakefront neighborhoods joined the West Town Coalition and the Young Lords, and both groups backed Harold Washington. He won the three-way primary election with 80% of the Latino vote. The Young Lords leader Jose Cha Cha Jimenez introduced the new mayor in June 1983 in Humboldt Park before a crowd of 100,000 Puerto Ricans.[38] For the next three years, the Cook County Democratic Party was divided by crippling Council Wars in the city of Chicago.[39] This was essentially a racially polarized political conflict that blocked the agenda of Washington and his allies.[40]

After Washington was elected - and in spite of the fact that African Americans and Latinos comprised 55 percent of the votes in the city's 49 wards - only 15 Blacks and one Latino served as alderman.[41]Gerrymandering had prevented the Black and Latino majorities from electing candidates from their own communities. Washington's supporters and allies waged an unprecedented and successful battle over redistricting. Their broad, multiracial coalition then used grassroots organizing techniques that resulted in electoral wins.[41] Those victories brought an end to the Council Wars that had paralyzed Chicago's city council since Washington was elected.[42] Several prominent Democrats, led by Party Chairman Edward Vrdolyak, defected to the Republican Party.[43] George Dunne, who had aligned himself with Harold Washington during the Council Wars period, was re-elected to the party chairmanship after Vrydolyak resigned following his defeat by Washington in the 1987 Mayoral election. Washington's death in the fall of 1987, a half-year into his second term, fractured the Washington political coalition.[44] No subsequent African-American candidate was able to unify the West and South Side African-American communities or mobilize the same degree of support among white liberals as well as Washington had.[45]

In 2008, Vrdolyak, former Democratic Committeeman from Chicago's 10th Ward, Chicago alderman, and former Cook County Democratic Party Chairman, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud related to the sale of property by the Chicago Medical School.[46]

Under Tom Lyons

Dunne did not seek re-election to the party chairmanship in 1990, amidst a scandal in which he admitted having sex with female county employees who alleged they were pressured into providing sexual favors to him.[47] Following Dunne's departure, Thomas G. Lyons was elected chairman of the party and would serve in that capacity for 17 years. He had also been the 45th Ward committeeman and was a lawmaker, lawyer and lobbyist.[48] After the March, 2000 County elections, Pulitzer Prize-winning Chicago Tribune editorial page editor R. Bruce Dold wrote in an op-ed,

Nobody wants to be the chairman of the Cook County Democratic Party, the job once held by Richard J. Daley, the job that made George Dunne a powerful man. Nobody wants it because the Democratic Party of Cook County has become nothing more than a distraction for the one Democrat who counts, Mayor Richard M. Daley. ... The Democrats, though, they had a thing of beauty, a big, genuine, political machine. But then it became a victim of Jane Byrne. And then it became a victim of Harold Washington. And now it's a victim of indifference.[49]

Richard M. Daley's political operation was largely separate from the county organization.[3][50] His power bloc included the growing Hispanic community, through a "powerful and feared patronage army" known as the Hispanic Democratic Organization.[51] Unlike his father, the younger Daley also reached out to those who initially opposed him, and primarily through negotiated apportionment of city funds for aldermen's local projects, was able to gain control of the City Council to a degree that only the elder Daley ever enjoyed.[][52][failed verification] In July 2005, the federal court-appointed Shakman monitor reported widespread abuses of a previous court decree against patronage hiring.[] On July 5, 2006, Robert Sorich, formally, Daley's director of the Mayor's Office of Intergovernmental Affairs and, informally, Daley's patronage chief, and Timothy McCarthy, Sorich's aide, were each convicted on two counts of mail fraud connected to rigging blue-collar city jobs and promotions.[53][54][55][56]

In 1995, Mel Reynolds, Democratic congressman from Illinois's 2nd congressional district, which includes parts of the south side of Chicago and south suburbs in Cook County and parts of Will and Kankakee Counties, was convicted on 12 counts of sexual assault, obstruction of justice and solicitation of child pornography, and while serving his sentence, was convicted on 16 unrelated counts of bank fraud, misusing campaign funds for personal use and lying to FEC investigators.[57][58]

Lyons died in 2007. Shortly after Lyons death, 13th Ward committeeman Michael Madigan said, "The party's been going through transition for a long time. This is a completely different Democratic Party than the one I joined in 1969."[3] Richard M. Daley retired in 2011.

"It's really important to see that the Democratic Party made great inroads in suburban communities and I think that's healthy for our democracy in Illinois." - Illinois Governor Pat Quinn, November 2012[59]

Under Joseph Berrios

On February 1, 2007, Joseph Berrios was unanimously elected Chairman of the Cook County Democratic Party and headed the organization until April 18, 2018.[3][4] Berrios is the first Hispanic to serve as Party chairman.[60] In 2010 Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, a Berrios political ally, said, "When Joe came in, for the first time, African-Americans, Latinos, women had a real opportunity for leadership in the party and had a real opportunity to be slated by the party."[61]

The party has recently won several notable elections in suburban Cook County. At the county level, the Democratic committeeman of Wheeling Township, Patrick Botterman, engineered Brendan Houlihan's successful campaign for Commissioner of Cook County Board of Review in 2006.[62]

Berrios has been the subject of numerous investigations and legal proceedings involving ethical violations, corruption, fraud and nepotism. He has defended his right in the press and in courts to hire and promote family members and friends to taxpayer funded positions.[63][64][65][66]

Under Toni Preckwinkle

On April 18, 2018, Toni Preckwinkle was unanimously elected Chair of the Cook County Democratic Party. She became the first woman and first African-American to hold the position.[4]

List of chairmen

Name Ward Years served
John McGillen 21 (fl. 1893)
Thomas Gahan 29 (1895-1902)
Thomas Carey 29 (fl. 1904)
William L. O'Connell 6 (fl. 1909)
John McCarthy 2 (fl. 1912)
Roger C. Sullivan 14 (1915-1920)
George Brennan 32 (1920-1928)
Anton Cermak 12 (1928-1931)
Patrick Nash 28 (1931-1943)
Edward J. Kelly 11 (1943-1946)
Jacob Arvey 24 (1946-1950)
Joseph L. Gill 46 (1950-1953)
Richard J. Daley 11 (1953-1976)
George Dunne 42 (1976-1982, 1987-1990)
Edward Vrdolyak 10 (1982-1987)
Thomas G. Lyons 45 (1990-2007)
Joseph Berrios 31 (2007-2018)
Toni Preckwinkle 4 (2018-present)

Public corruption convictions

Examples of high-profile cases which have resulted in the conviction of members of the Cook County Democratic Party include Rod Blagojevich, Isaac Carothers, Arenda Troutman, and Jesse Jackson, Jr.[67][68]

See also


  1. ^ a b Hinton, Rachel (November 25, 2019). "Is name change for ward bosses a breath of fresh air for Chicago's smoke-filled rooms". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved .
  2. ^ By-laws of the Cook County Democratic Party: Article I: Organization and Purpose p. 1
  3. ^ a b c d Chicago Tribune: Democrats elect a new chief
  4. ^ a b c
  5. ^ Southland Democrats: Democratic Organizations Archived 2013-02-03 at the Wayback Machine
  6. ^ By-laws of the Cook County Democratic Party: Article IV: Officers, Powers and Duties p. 4
  7. ^ Growth of Cook County, Vol. I, by Charles B. Johnson, published by the Board of Commissioner of Cook County, Illinois, 1960.
  8. ^ Holli, Melvin G. and Petre d'A. Jones, editors; "Ethnic Chicago" (1995) p. 414
  9. ^ Holli, Melvin G. and Petre d'A. Jones, editors; "Ethnic Chicago" (1995) p. 416
  10. ^ Encyclopedia of Chicago: Machine Politics
  11. ^ Holli, Melvin G. and Petre d'A. Jones, editors; "Ethnic Chicago" (1995) p. 417
  12. ^ Richard Allen Morton (1998). "'A Man of Belial': Roger C. Sullivan, the Progressive Democracy, and the Senatorial Elections of 1914" (PDF). Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society. 91. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2008-07-19. Retrieved .
  13. ^ Holli, Melvin G. and Petre d'A. Jones, editors; "Ethnic Chicago" (1995) p. 433
  14. ^ Holli, Melvin G. and Petre d'A. Jones, editors; "Ethnic Chicago" (1995) p. 444
  15. ^ O'Connor, Len; "Clout: Mayor Daley and His City". (1975) pp. 37-39
  16. ^ Holli, Melvin G. and Petre d'A. Jones, editors; "Ethnic Chicago" (1995) p. 451
  17. ^ O'Connor, Len; "Clout: Mayor Daley and His City". (1975) p. 45
  18. ^ a b Holli, Melvin G. and Petre d'A. Jones, editors; "Ethnic Chicago" (1995) p. 437
  19. ^ O'Connor, Len; "Clout: Mayor Daley and His City". (1975) pp. 54-55
  20. ^ O'Connor, Len; "Clout: Mayor Daley and His City". (1975) p. 56
  21. ^ a b c d Holli, Melvin G. and Petre d'A. Jones, editors; "Ethnic Chicago" (1995) p. 457
  22. ^ O'Connor, Len; "Clout: Mayor Daley and His City". (1975) pp. 60-61
  23. ^ a b O'Connor, Len; "Clout: Mayor Daley and His City". (1975) pp. 11, 12
  24. ^ O'Connor, Len; "Clout: Mayor Daley and His City". (1975) p. 121
  25. ^ Dawson, William Levi, (1886-1970)
  26. ^ O'Connor, Len; "Clout: Mayor Daley and His City". (1975) pp. 110, 113
  27. ^ O'Connor, Len; "Clout: Mayor Daley and His City". (1975) pp. 158-162
  28. ^ Cook County Shakman Compliance Administrator: Background
  29. ^ Federal Judicial Center: The Chicago Seven Conspiracy Trial
  30. ^ NBC Morning News, August 29, 1968.
  31. ^ Oxford Dictionary of Political Biography: Jane Byrne
  32. ^ Chicago Tribune: Jane Byrne elected mayor of Chicago
  33. ^ New York Times: Michael Bilandic, Daley Successor in Chicago, Dies at 78
  34. ^ WBEZ: This American Life 84: Harold
  35. ^ Illinois Issues #18: After Byrne's Win
  36. ^ Illinois Department of Central Management Services: Rock, Phil Archived 2014-04-07 at the Wayback Machine
  37. ^ WBEZ: Forging a Rainbow Coalition: The Legacy of Harold Washington
  38. ^ Williams, Jakobi; "From the bullet to the ballot : the Illinois Chapter of the Black Panther Party and racial coalition politics in Chicago". (2013) p. 198
  39. ^ "Rahm Emanuel says he doesn't want a repeat of the Council Wars that once crippled City Hall"
  40. ^ Encyclopedia of Chicago: Council Wars
  41. ^ a b Political Affairs: Harold Washington: The People's Mayor
  42. ^ Fremon, David K., "Chicago Politics, Ward by Ward". (1988) pp. 3-4
  43. ^ Los Angeles Times: Vrdolyak Files for Chicago GOP Primary
  44. ^ Daily Kos: Remembering Harold Washington
  45. ^ "The Root: The Root Cities: Chicago's Political Power Brokers". Archived from the original on 2013-03-23. Retrieved .
  46. ^ Former Ald. Ed Vrdolyak Pleads Guilty Archived 2008-11-06 at the Wayback Machine Chicago Sun-Times, November 3, 2008
  47. ^ New York Times: Chicago Is Untroubled By Political Sex Scandal
  48. ^ Chicago Tribune: Thomas G. Lyons: 1931-2007
  49. ^ Chicago Tribune: Is Cook County's Democratic Party Becoming A Joke?
  50. ^ Chicago Sun-Times: The two mayors Daley: Son about to pass father for time in office
  51. ^ Chicago Tribune: Once Mighty Political Group Shuts Down
  52. ^ Huffington Post: Mayor Daley Will Not Seek Another Term, Chicago's Political Landscape Changes Enormously
  53. ^ Bush, Rudolph; Mihalopoulos, Dan (2006-07-06). "Daley jobs chief guilty; Jury convicts 4 in city hiring fraud; feds say, 'Stay tuned'". Chicago Tribune.
  54. ^ Ruethling, Gretchen (July 7, 2006). "Chicago Officials Convicted in Patronage Arrangement". The New York Times. Retrieved 2012.
  55. ^ "Federal prosecutors are poised to call dozens of witnesses from City Hall to describe a revived model of the Democratic machine."
  56. ^ Chicago Tribune: Chicago rebuilt machine, U.S. says
  57. ^ Clinton Commutation Grants, January 2001, University of Pittsburgh Law <"Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2008-05-14. Retrieved .CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)>
  58. ^ Interview with Mel Reynolds, Chicago Reporter, January 2001 <"Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2007-09-28. Retrieved .CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)>
  59. ^ Bloomington Pantagraph: Dem Majorities Remake Ill. Legislative Landscape
  60. ^ "Press Release: Berrios Gets Backing from African-American Elected Officials". Archived from the original on 2014-04-07. Retrieved .
  61. ^ Chicago Tribune: Preckwinkle praises Berrios to Tribune editorial board
  62. ^ Chicago Reader: Patrick Botterman
  63. ^
  64. ^
  65. ^
  66. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2015-08-04. Retrieved .CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  67. ^ Gradel, Thomas J.; Simpson, Dick (January 20, 2015). Corrupt Illinois: Patronage, Cronyism, and Criminality (1st ed.). University of Illinois Press. ISBN 978-0252078552.
  68. ^ Tritsch, Shane (December 9, 2010). "Why Is Illinois So Corrupt?". Chicago. Retrieved 2015.

Further reading

  • Cohen, Adam and Taylor, Elizabeth, American Pharaoh: Mayor Richard J. Daley -- His Battle for Chicago and the Nation (2000)
  • Grimshaw, William J, Bitter Fruit: Black Politics and the Chicago Machine, 1931-1991 (1992)
  • Morton, Richard Allen, Roger C. Sullivan and the Making of the Chicago Democratic Machine, 1881-1909 (2016)
  • Rakove, Milton L, Don't Make No Waves, Don't Back No Losers: An Insider's Analysis of the Daley Machine (1975)
  • Rakove, Milton L, We Don't Want Nobody Nobody Sent: An Oral History of the Daley Years (1979)
  • Royko, Mike, Boss: Richard J. Daley of Chicago (1971)

External links

  This article uses material from the Wikipedia page available here. It is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.



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