DePaul alum challenges incumbent for Northwest suburban district
02/26/2018Since graduating from DePaul in 2013, Kevin B. Morrison has put his studies in political and environmental science into action, gaining years of experience as a community activist and organizer for Chicagoland area politicians, including Ald. Mary O’Connor, State Rep. Robert Martwick and Hillary Clinton.
Now, he’s pounding the pavement for his own campaign and running as a Democrat for a seat on the Cook County Board of Commissioners against three-term Republican Commissioner Timothy Schneider to represent the 15th District. If elected, Morrison will become the first openly LGBT member to serve on the Cook County Board.
It was in early November, 2017 while serving as Democratic Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi’s special projects coordinator that Morrison decided to run for a Cook County Board seat. After listening to concerns from residents in his own district about the lack of representation from their city government, he decided to take matters into his own hands and run for office.
“This is a community that is worried about the fiscal situation, worried about the debt the county currently has,” Morrison said. “I want to make sure we’re strengthening my county moving forward, and that is something people in my district are passionate about as well.”
By the end of November, Morrison had secured over 1,100 signatures from constituents eager for a change in leadership.
The Cook County Board is the county’s legislative body that oversees decisions made in the nation’s second-largest county. The 17-member board crafts policy on public interests and is in charge of how county funds are appropriated. As district commissioner, Morrison would represent the northwest suburbs, which include Arlington Heights, Schaumburg, Hoffman Estates, Streamwood, Hannover Park and Elk Grove Village and would be responsible for nearly 300,000 constituents.
Morrison has a tough fight ahead of him. The 15th District has a history of securing Republican incumbents, with Schneider currently serving his third term as commissioner and Carl Hansen serving for eight terms before him. In the 2014 Cook County Board primary, Schneider collected 40,569 votes, beating his Democratic challenger Michael Urban who gathered 28,392.
According to Schneider, his contributions to the district over the years have been in the best interest of his constituents, listing off his sponsorship of the repeal of “burdensome” bills like the sweetened beverage tax and Todd Stroger’s sales taxes, his provision of county road projects and his work in maintaining a level playing field with counties neighboring Cook County to ensure the potential for more jobs and businesses for residents.
“I’ve also returned half a million dollars of my own budget to the county,” Schneider said, noting that only one other commissioner has accomplished that feat to date. “I think I’ve done a really good job representing the people of my district and the wishes of my district on the county board.”
Nonetheless, according to Morrison, some 15th District residents wish for more attention to be placed on their district.
“This is a very diverse area and one that doesn’t feel like it’s being adequately represented by the big, strong voices of Chicago,” he said. “We are Cook County, but we are the suburbs, so a lot of times I feel that the frustrations are that the focus is always on the city and not on the rest of the communities that border the city.”
Despite the district’s historically conservative slant, Morrison explained that this past election cycle is proof that residents of his district are opening up to the prospect of being led by a Democrat.
“This is also a district that Hillary Clinton won by 20 points,” he said. “So it has definitely been one of flux and one that has been shifting over the past couple decades.”
One unyielding fact about the 15th District is that its sizeable working class population is fed up with rising property taxes, a complaint that has reverberated throughout Cook County as the wealthy continue to take advantage of budget loopholes.
“I would like to deal with that head on and make sure they’re paying their fair share so that we’re not continuously disadvantaging the working class families of the county,” Morrison said. “This is a community that is worried about the fiscal situation and the debt the county currently has and how we can strengthen the economy we currently have so that we don’t have a fiscal collapse like Detroit.”
Increasing Cook County budget transparency is also a concern high on Morrison’s list. Given that Cook County is currently over $139 billion in debt, Morrison plans to find ways to stretch the taxpayer dollar to cover the needs of every resident in Cook County.
“I wish the taxpayer could see how or if their tax dollars are being spent appropriately and if we are receiving the best deals in each and every one of the purchases,” he said, mentioning his goals to fund the same vital services and maintain high quality, while “being smart” with how the money is spent.
Among his other campaign goals, to help boost the economy, Morrison would like to invest in a tax exemption geared toward helping new small businesses, thus creating jobs in Cook County. He also plans on protecting Illinois’ Forest Preserves and ensuring that Cook County Medical provides all residents, regardless of age, race or gender, with adequate healthcare.
“I want to make sure that once you seek a vital service that the county provides, that everyone gets an equitable treatment,” he said, referencing his plan to advocate for the fair treatment of Cook County’s LGBT residents while serving on the board.
“I think that every representative body should represent the (gamut of) constituents it’s seeking to represent,” he said. “Right now, we have a huge LGBT community in Cook County that doesn’t have a voice on one of the most important boards.”
Given the cut-throat nature of campaigns, there is a high level of drive one must have while running in any political race. Despite having just recently turned 28 years old, and running up against a politically seasoned opponent, Morrison’s determination to represent the unheard voices in his district is what motivates him to continue to go door-to-door, braving cold temperatures and shuffling through snow-clad sidewalks to discuss with residents his progressive vision for Cook County.
“I’m going to push policies that are not only going to benefit the county now, but into the future as well, because I plan on living here,” Morrison said. “I have all of our futures in whatever decisions I would be making.”
The 15th District will decide who their candidate will be in the primary elections on March 20.