By Dane Placko, Patrick Rehkamp, Chris Fusco and Robert Herguth
A Democratic Party committee is set to meet Wednesday to discuss rescinding the party’s endorsement of Cook County Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown, with Ald. Michelle Harris (8th) and Ald. Walter Burnett (27th) being floated as potential replacements.
As word of the meeting spread Tuesday, another alderman, Ricardo Munoz (22nd), revealed he was interviewed last year by the FBI about a Lawndale land deal in his ward that involved Brown, her husband and a campaign donor. Brown handily defeated Munoz in the 2012 Democratic primary for Circuit Court clerk but said he has no interest in running for the office this time around.
Munoz said it was a “phone call” from “special agent somebody” asking about the property, apparently because as alderman he has a say in development and zoning matters.
Munoz said he knew nothing about the parcel, which was given to Brown’s husband by a Brown campaign donor and later sold for $100,000 – without being disclosed on Brown’s campaign or ethics filings.
“That was the extent” of the conversation with the FBI, Munoz said.
A spokeswoman for Brown didn’t immediately return messages seeking comment.
Cook County Democratic Party Chairman Joseph Berrios said last week that party leaders would take a fresh look at their decision to endorse Brown — who is seeking her fifth term — after news reports revealed that the FBI had seized Brown’s county-issued cell phone.
Additionally, the Chicago Sun-Times, Better Government Association and FOX Chicago TV reported that the U.S. attorney’s office in Chicago has a grand jury looking into loans Brown might have gotten from employees, according to a source familiar with the case.
Manuel Galvan, press secretary for the Cook County Democrats, said Tuesday that the party’s executive committee is scheduled to meet Wednesday afternoon and that “one of the topics is a discussion on Dorothy Brown.”
The meeting isn’t open to the public — and the executive committee can’t decide to rescind Brown’s endorsement on its own, Galvan said. But the committee can make recommendations to the county’s 80 Democratic committeemen, who could then vote to remove Brown from their endorsed slate of candidates for the 2016 election.
At least one committeeman, Ald. Carrie Austin (34th), said she’s standing by Brown. “She’s still my slated candidate,” Austin said.
The county’s endorsement, known as slating, comes with financial support and manpower giving slated candidates a leg up in elections.
Attorney Jacob Meister has formed a campaign committee and is circulating petitions to get on the March 15 primary ballot to unseat Brown. But party insiders said leaders are discussing other potential candidates for the countywide office, including Burnett, a protégé of Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White, and Harris.
Candidates have until Nov. 30 to turn in nominating petition signatures to get on the ballot.
Burnett said he’s interested in the position but wants to see what the party leaders decide.
“My mentor, [White], is asking me to take a look at it,” Burnett said. “I will say a lot of my supporters have been pushing me . . . I may if the party asks me. I’ll consider it.”
Harris also expressed interest by making phone calls to committeemen to float her name as a possible replacement on the Democratic ticket.
The Circuit Court clerk’s office is the repository for county court records and historically has been a haven for patronage workers.
Party leaders asked Brown whether she was under criminal investigation when she had her Democratic slating interview in August, Berrios said last week. That was about a year and a half after news reports from the BGA and FOX revealed authorities had begun investigating the land deal in Munoz’s ward.
“The question was posed to her by various people, and she had said ‘No,’” Berrios said. “We’ve got an executive committee, and we’ve got the full committee. We will discuss it, and we’ll see where it goes from here.”