Republican Linda Thompson LaFianza is challenging Democrat incumbent Larry Suffredin for the position of Cook County Commissioner of the 13th District.
Ms. LaFianza is communications coordinator for Zinfandel partners. Mr. Suffredin is an attorney and lobbyist.
Both candidates are Evanston residents, and both have lived here for more than two decades. Each makes reform a central part of the campaign. Mr. Suffredin points to several changes made during his tenure and with his support, many of them confronting or opposing Cook County Board President Todd Stroger.
Ms. LaFianza says she decided to run for Cook County Board “to take reform to the next level.”
Mr. Suffredin said he and other Cook County Board members have “worked to limit patronage hiring, created an independent health board for the County, and … have drafted ‘best practices’ for the Forest Preserve District.” He said he would like to see the Forest Preserve District become independent, run by its own elected board, similar to the health board.
Ms. LaFianza told the RoundTable, “… Now that the spotlight has shined [on the Cook County Board], I want to enforce that message and make sure the board is refocused, … so the cost [of doing County business] is lowered.”
In a debate held by the League of Women Voters of Evanston and of several surrounding communities on Oct. 3 at Beth Emet the Free Synagogue, the two candidates answered questions about the budget, health care and possible proactive actions by the County Board. Most of the questions were posed by League members.
Both candidates emphasized the diversity of Evanston and the 13th Cook County District.
“The 13th District is the most diverse District racially, economically, educationally and with its health needs,” Mr. Suffredin said.
“Being in Evanston we are in some ways the center of the world,” said Ms. La Fianza, adding, “This does become a place of importance and power.”
The principal differences between the two appeared to be that Mr. Suffredin sees an expanded role for the County Board and Ms. LaFianza would like to limit its scope.
On the budget, Mr. Suffredin said he believes the Board’s budget is in fairly good shape and that reducing it by another 5 percent should balance it: “We’re $5.8 million off on a $3 billion budget [taking into account] the $140 million reduction in revenue because of the sales tax reduction. We’ve reduced the workforce from 24,000 to 22,000.” He said he and his colleagues are “trying to stop Todd Stroger from presenting his budget before a new Board president is elected.”
Ms. LaFianza said she would like to see “a 10 percent across-the-board reduction, then [she would] take a look at the budget, program by program.”
On health care, Ms. LaFianza said, “A way to go is [having] health clinics in neighborhoods.” She said she would like to “shrink Stroger Hospital and save it for those with more serious illnesses.”
Mr. Suffredin said, “There is a plan to turn Provident Hospital and Stroger Hospital into primary-care hospitals. We are also looking to create 16 [local] federally qualified health clinics to capture $11 million in federal money.” He added. “The biggest problem is that there is no form of reimbursement [such as Medicare or Medicaid] for hospitals that treat undocumented people. The feds need to step in.”
Responding to the question “What steps can the County Board take to become more proactive?” Mr. Suffredin said he would like to encourage more people to “volunteer to work in the Forest Preserve Districts and to expand the [assessment] appeal process and the Board of Review [which rules on assessment appeals].” He also said he would like to see the County Board acquire more lands for the Forest Preserve District and have the County turn over control of that district to an independent, elected board.
Ms. LaFianza said, “What people want is less government, not more. We should be less proactive. I would like to get as much government out of people’s lives as possible.” She also said, though, she would like to “look at recidivism” and find ways to “impact in a positive way” those who are incarcerated.
Both acknowledged the need to balance the needs of the County with those of their constituents. Mr. Suffredin said, “The 320,000 people I represent understand that I have to be a representative of Cook County. I am an advocate for issues that are important to the district. I will make coalitions to support legislation I believe is important. … What we have to understand is that we are all in this together.”
Ms. LaFianza said, “To be a good representative you have to be a good listener, look at the larger issues, look at the moral issues. [Representing the district and the County] is the ongoing political balancing act.” She added, “We are on a path toward reform. I am hoping to put a coalition together that will make meaningful reform.”