The bottom half of the voting ballot can make us all feel like civically disengaged idiots. After punching our way through national office candidates, and maybe even making a few informed picks for state legislative seats, that gratifying ‘I-actually-care-enough-to-vote’ attitude disappears when we realize there are numerous (and obscure) county, city and judicial races on the ballot that demand our attention.
Fortunately, the Bucktown Community Organization is on a mission to shed light on these often-unknown bottom-ballot candidates. To help voters make educated decisions during this year’s primary election on Tues. March 20, the BCO hosted a candidate forum yesterday evening (Tues. Feb. 22) at the Bucktown American Legion, 1824 W. Cortland.
“This [was] an opportunity that we wanted to put together from the community side as an impartial, unbiased opportunity for neighbors – people who live in the neighborhood and beyond the neighborhood – to meet the people that we vote for on election day,” said Eva Bergant, BCO president.
At the forum, more than 30 judicial, ward and state legislator candidates – plus a few candidates vying for one-of-three Metropolitan Reclamation of Greater Chicago slots – mingled with about a dozen voters over beer and cocktails. No formal presentations were made, as the evening followed a meet-and-greet format, with the candidates approaching the two dozen or so people in attendance in an attempt to introduce themselves and win their votes.
A few of these candidates were gracious enough to speak with The Pipeline. We’ve compiled some highlights of our conversations with candidates, below.
Ricardo Lugo, 6th judicial subcircuit judge
Background: Most of Lugo’s 20-year legal career has been as a trial attorney. Since 2004, he has worked in the Cook County Clerk of Court’s Office as as deputy general counsel, chief of the chancery division and chief investigator. He’s positioning himself as “the people’s choice” candidate. “That’s really my platform. I’ve been everywhere – to trains, churches, senior citizens homes. Knocking on doors. The way it should be.”
Philosophy: “People don’t know judges when they vote. They don’t even know judges in real life, up until the point they appear in front of a judge. People should know their elected officials.”
Kimberly D Lewis, 7th judicial subcircuit judge
Background: Lewis is an administrative law judge. She also has a criminal defense private practice. Her community service includes serving as the chairman of the board for Geneva Scott Outreach Services. “During my tenure as an administrative law judge, I feel it has helped to hone my ability to multi-task and prepare me for the circuit court level. As an administrative law judge, within your courtroom, you are the judge, you are the clerk, and you are the bailiff, as well.”
Philosophy: “When people can be given a second chance, then that is important. Especially our youth, or if someone who doesn’t have a [criminal] background and it’s a nonviolent crime. I believe in looking at all the circumstances and making a judgment.”
Mable Taylor, 7th judicial subcircuit judge
Background: Taylor has served 14 years as an arbitrator with Cook County. Her volunteer work includes work with the Chicago Legal Advocacy for Incarcerated Women and also with First Defense. “I decided to run because I always wanted to be a judge. It’s like a natural progression for me.”
Philosophy: “One of the things that you want to know is what has that person done for that community in which they’re actually running for. I think I come three-fold, because I bring the experience, the practice as an arbitrator, plus my years of giving back to the community in which I live in.”
Steve Demitro, Cook County circuit judge
Background: Demitro has been a general practice lawyer for 12 years, focusing mostly on personal injury law. “It’s been a long road to get here, and it’s just so exciting…I started my adult life as a high school dropout. I went back to school, completed my GED, finished college and graduated law school, then passed the Illinois bar.”
Philosophy: “Through my diverse background, I’ve met a lot of people in my life. And people want and need a fair and impartial justice.”
Michael Forte, Cook County circuit judge
Background: Forte spent 14 years in the private sector as an equity partner at a large law firm specializing in commercial litigation, before becoming the deputy in charge of litigation for the City of Chicago, a post which he has held for 17 years. “I have many friends on the bench who have always said I have the right disposition and character for the bench, and I thought long and hard about it, and decided this is my time to make the run.”
Philosophy: “It first starts with experience…I also think it’s some intangibles, like judgment, which is something you acquire over time. But you either have good judgment or you don’t. And then, very importantly, integrity. Which is why I’m so proud of the fact I was endorsed by David Hoffman, the former inspector general of the city of Chicago. If people come into my courtroom, they know they’re going to get a fair shake, regardless of race, color or creed.”
Terrence M. Jordan, Cook County circuit judge
Background: Jordan has been an attorney for 35 years, focusing primarily on civil litigation but also possessing experience in criminal law. He is also the Riverside zoning commissioner.
Philosophy: “It’s a question of being fair and honest. A judge has to have integrity and watch out for the integrity of the judicial process. One of the biggest problems that we got in the judiciary at the moment is the incivility that exists between the lawyers, and just in the courtroom itself.”
John J. Curry, 32nd Ward Republican committeeman
Background: Curry has served 32nd Ward Republicans as their local party leader since 1996, and is endorsed by State Chairman Pat Brady. “I think I’ve built up some presence and respect within our state party and within our county party, and I think that brings more clout to our position here in our neighborhood.”
Vision: “I think the representation for this area is too left-wing, for lack of another word. I think we need a more centrist representation, and that means attention to some other issues.”
Patricia Horton, Metropolitan Water Reclamation District Commissioner
Background: Horton is finishing up her first term as a Metropolitan Water Reclamation District commissioners. She sites her travels to Bangladesh, where she witnessed first-hand the devastating affects of poor water and sanitation, as being a motivator for her career. “I came back with a fight for clean water, educating people about water, and it wasn’t long before that that I became the commissioner. And my passion is still there.”
Philosophy: Horton is a strong proponent for infrastructure improvements: “Now you’re beginning to hear about infrastructure, because there’s a dire need for it. A city on sand can’t stand.”
-Words and Images (except for photos of Lugo, Lewis, Taylor, Demetrio) By Nick Przybyciel
Nick Przybyciel is a Master of Science in Journalism candidate at Northwestern University’s Medill School. Prior to moving to Chicago for grad school, Nick lived in Seattle, where he managed the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Pioneering Ideas blog and represented the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation as a public relations specialist.