Democratic candidate for Board President
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When I first announced my candidacy for Cook County Board President, over eight years ago, conventional wisdom was that I was the underdog. I spent nearly two years travelling through the County, speaking with residents and hearing their concerns before I took in office. The same beliefs that drove me to run then, fuel my desire for re-election.
I believe in what we do at the County and I am willing work harder than anyone else to get it done. Over the last seven years, we have taken the tough but necessary steps to ensure accountability from our operations and our employees, to support our core services and to advance our policy priorities. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, and by working with CCHHS Chief Executive Officer Dr. Shannon and his team, we have laid the foundation for a public health system that is responsible and responsive to both patients and taxpayers.
With over 400,000 patients in our Medicaid program, CountyCare, for the first time in our history, our patient population is more insured than uninsured. That, in turn, means we rely less on local tax dollars, but more importantly, we are able to provide better care for our patients. We are taking steps to transform ourselves from a provider of last resort to a provider of choice. As one of our primary goals is to provide care where it is needed, our CountyCare network includes 138 primary care sites, including every Federally Qualified Health Center and almost every hospital in the County. In addition to expanding available providers, we are investing in improving our own facilities, including replacing a 50 year old clinic on our central campus and making strategic investments throughout our community health centers.
We are looking to expand the definition of "health care" beyond the walls of a doctor's office. In partnership with the Greater Chicago Food Depository, we have launched a Food Access Plan and Taskforce to address food inequality throughout Cook County. By connecting our patients with reliable sources of food we can better care for their health and mitigate avoidable health consequences associated with hunger and poor nutrition.
While I remain steadfast in fighting against the current threat to the ACA coming from the new administration, I never lose sight of how much we have accomplished and what more we can do to provide quality, comprehensive public health care to our residents.
When it comes to public safety, I have tried to be an advocate and raise awareness, to help shape sound policy decisions and to facilitate the collaboration necessary for meaningful criminal justice reform. My focus continues to be on centered on reducing the over-reliance on pre-trial detention. Coming into office, our jail averaged over 10,000 detainees a day.
By supporting and working with our criminal justice stakeholders we have seen our pre-trial jail population drop 30%, from over 10,000, before I was elected, to currently under 6,000. Because of this steady decline, we are working with the Sheriff to reduce the size of the jail campus, which costs taxpayers over $330 million annually to maintain.
While we work to make our criminal justice system more fair and effective, we will also focus on what brings people into our criminal justice system in the first place. We have increased the County's grant allocation for community interventions (totaling nearly $20 million since 2013), more aggressively sought external grants (Cook County received a $1.85 million MacArthur Justice challenge grant in 2017), partnered with non-profit organizations and developed relationships with local universities in order to better understand what practices are most effective.
While public health and public safety have long been the cornerstones of Cook County government, I've always believed economic development should be to a central component of our agenda. One of my first actions as President was to create a Bureau of Economic Development to establish sound criteria and identify new ways for using the County's economic development tools, such as tax breaks, grants, infrastructure investments and regulatory relief, which had previously been scattered and uncoordinated across various departments.
Shortly thereafter, I created a Council of Economic Advisers, chaired by John Rogers and Will Osborn and consisting of business and civic leaders, to create a framework to define the role that we can and should play to help our economy thrive.
One of the most important ways is by facilitating a regional conservation and strategy. To that end, I convened the first regional economic development forum in December 2013, bringing together private and public leadership, including the City of Chicago and Chairs of the collar counties. These regular meetings have evolved into a formal organization.
We hired an Executive Director in 2017 and we have several successful initiatives underway, including streamlining the antiquated truck permitting system, helping small and medium size businesses export, strengthening our metal manufacturing hub and partnering with the Brookings Institution to attract and leverage Foreign Direct Investment in the region.
I will conclude with one of the more enjoyable parts of my job — and that is serving as the President of the Cook County Forest Preserves. Since taking office, we developed master plans for recreation, camping, capital improvements.
At the center of these unprecedented planning efforts is the ambitious Next Century Conservation Plan, which lays out the framework for Cook County to become a national leader in urban conservation. Since the implementation of the Next Century Conservation Plan in 2015, we have made significant improvements in to the Forest Preserves through capital investments, expanded volunteerism, and by helping individuals and families of all backgrounds make life-long connections to nature and the outdoors. This job has been far from easy — in fact, it's often been incredibly challenging.
I don't see that changing anytime soon. What also remains unchanged is my belief in what we do at the county, my vision for how we can do it better and my commitment to work really hard to make it a reality.