Tara Stamps takes an oath of office as Cook County Commissioner | Credit: Igor Studenkov/Staff Reporter

The Democratic Party selection committee chose union activist and former Chicago aldermanic candidate Tara Stamps to succeed Brandon Johnson on the Cook County Board of Commissioners.

The meeting, held June 20 at The Carleton Hotel in Oak Park, 1110 Pleasant St., lasted a little over three hours, with about half of it involving interviews of the six finalists chosen from among applicants. According to the committee chair, Illinois Sen. President Don Harmon (D-39th), one candidate was eliminated quickly, but it took five rounds of voting before the committee agreed to support Stamps. She was sworn in immediately and will serve until at least the end of 2024. If she wins the March 2024 Democratic primary and that year’s general election, Stamps will be able to serve out the remaining half of Johnson’s term.

Rory Hoskins, Forest Park’s mayor, was the only elected official to throw his hat in the ring. He said that, if selected, he would continue to serve as mayor, but would give up that office if he won the March 2024 primary. After Stamps was selected, Hoskins told this newspaper that he wished Stamps well, and that he won’t run against her in 2024.

The 1st District spans the city and the suburbs, including all of Austin, Oak Park, Forest Park, Maywood and Bellwood.

Stamps was born in Cabrini-Green. A daughter of civil rights activist Marion Stamps, she told the committee that taking part in protests was a formative part of her upbringing. Stamps became a Chicago Public Schools language arts teacher in 1996, and, aside from taking two years off to raise her kids, she continued teaching until 2018. Stamps told the committee that she was a “mentor-teacher” to Johnson while he was attending what was then known as the Jenner Elementary Academy of the Arts. She currently works as administrator for new teacher development at the Chicago Teachers Union.

As an adult, Stamps became an activist in her own right. She ran against Austin Ald. Emma Mitts (37th) in 2015 and 2019.

When a Cook County board seat becomes vacant, the committee made up of ward and township committeepersons from their political party get to choose the successor. Each committeeperson’s vote was worth the equivalent of the number of votes Johnson got in their ward or township during the 2022 election. Harmon, who serves as the Oak Park Township committeeperson, and County Clerk Karen Yarbrough, the Proviso Township committeeperson, collectively held 58.72% of the vote. On the city side, 2nd Ward Committeeperson Tim Egan and Alds. Walter Burnett (27th), Jason Ervin (28th), Chris Taliaferro (29th), Scott Waguespack (32nd) and Mitts attended the committee meeting. Ald. Daniel LaSpata (1st) and 26th Ward Committeeperson Angee Gonzalez Rodriguez were absent, but they gave Harmon their proxies.

During the meeting, Mitts said she supported Stamps’ candidacy, and Stamps said she supported Mitts in return.

“Solidarity is our own superpower,” Stamps told Mitts. “I’m here to be in lockstep with you to create a better, stronger, safer West Side.”

Hoskins was re-elected to his second term as mayor this April. He had previously served as a Forest Park village commissioner. He ran unsuccessfully for the Illinois House several years ago. During the committee interview, Hoskins said that he was a social worker in the 1990s, working with organizations in Humboldt Park and Austin. Hoskins said he decided to apply for the seat at the urging of his constituents sometime in mid-May, and that he filed the application on the May 30 deadline.

Aside from Stamps and Hoskins, the finalists included Rev. Ira J. Acree, co-chair of the Leaders Network, a faith-based West Side social justice group and pastor of Greater St. John Bible Church; former 29th Ward aldermanic candidate and Cook County president candidate Zerlina Smith-Members, Managing Deputy Commissioner of the Chicago Department of Streets and Sanitation Tommie Johnson and activist Claiborne Wade, who is originally from Austin but moved to Forest Park two years ago.

The Foxboro Room was packed with supporters for all candidates, the majority of whom came from the West Side. Acree, Smith-Members and Stamps got particularly loud applause. The candidates were interviewed one at a time. All were asked whether they felt they would be able to raise the money for their election campaign if they were selected and whether they would run against the selected candidate if they weren’t.

Johnson, Stamps and Smith-Members said that, if they weren’t selected, they would run for the seat, while Wade said that he was so confident in his chances that he wouldn’t even consider what happens if he wasn’t chosen.

“I’m absolutely going to run, because I’m uniquely qualified to continue the progressive measures that [Brandon Johnson pushed for] in the commissioner seat,” Stamps said.

She said she was able to raise nearly $250,000 during her previous campaigns and she expects to be able to surpass that.

“I’m happy to call on the support of the mayor and labor, so that we have a competitive race” Stamps said, adding that she was confident that they’d come through.

Hoskins said that he got “funding commitments” since he expressed interest in the position to raise the necessary funds. He said that, if he wasn’t selected, he would support the appointee in the election.

All finalists were asked how they would balance the interests of Chicago and suburban portions of the district. Stamps said that she was no stranger to the suburbs, saying she volunteered at Proviso Township and spoke at Oak Park’s 19th Century Club. She said she sees herself as “bridge-builder” and she would bring it to all parts of the district.

Hoskins reiterated his experience on the West Side and said he would be willing to listen and learn.

“If appointed, I look forward to working with you and other [elected officials] to see where I can be helpful,” he said.

The finalists were asked to describe their two major priorities if selected. Stamps said she would prioritize public safety – something that, based on her experience growing up in Cabrini-Green, required investment in programs. She also wanted to work toward expanding affordable housing in the city and the suburbs, something that, she believed, was especially important for seniors struggling to pay their bills.

Hoskins had similar priorities, saying that he would focus on expanding social services, especially when it comes to assisting homeless residents. He would also prioritize economic development, saying that, while Chicago and larger home rule municipalities get federal funding directly, smaller municipalities like Forest Park and Maywood get their funding through the county-driven process. He wanted to make sure the economic developments interests of such communities don’t get overlooked.

“I noted the absence of other suburban mayors seeking appointment, I decided to explore seeking the appointment,” Hoskins said.

Harmon said that, while there is precedent for county commissioners holding other offices at the same time, “I think that practice is going out of favor” and asked Hoskins if he would step down as mayor if selected, whether it was now or “right after the primary election.” Hoskins confirmed that he would, and said that he didn’t believe he would have trouble balancing the duties of two offices in the meantime,

“We have a very able village staff in Forest Park,” he said. “[Being a mayor] is essentially a part-time position. I don’t have to be hands on.”

Harmon also quizzed Stamps on her support for a commuter tax during her 2019 campaign. Stamps said she would keep an open mind.

“I’m prepared to analyze what’s in the best interest of our constituents,” she said, adding that, as a former teacher, she appreciated the importance of growing and learning.

After the interviews, the committee went into executive session, which lasted around 90 minutes. The staff had all the finalists lined up. As Harmon announced Stamps’ selection, a significant part of the remaining crowd erupted in cheers.

When asked what might have put her over the top, Stamps told reporters that it was her record as a “servant leader” and the service to the community.

Mitts told this newspaper that she was happy for her one-time opponent.

“Instead of getting the [aldermanic] seat, there’s another opportunity for her to get another seat, so everybody is happy,” she said. “We need unity in the community, and we need to fight together for the opportunities.”

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Igor Studenkov is a winner of multiple Illinois Press Association awards for local government and business reporting. He has been contributing to Growing Community Media newspapers in 2012, then from 2015...