Degnen defeats county Commissioner Fritchey
by KEVIN GROSS
Bridget Degnen defeated incumbent commissioner John Fritchey in the 12th District of Cook County race in the primary election on March 20 despite his vocal opposition to the county soda tax and efforts to repeal it.
Degnen received 22,771 votes, or 55.2 percent of the votes cast, and Fritchey received 18,501 votes, or 44.8 percent of the votes cast.
Degnen, who quit her job as deputy director of the state medical marijuana program to campaign full time, attributed her grassroots campaign as a major factor in boosting her name in the public eye.
"I started walking door to door in September, quit (my job) in October, and continued walking the district almost every day," Degnen said. "It was 100 percent grassroots. I’ve personally knocked on almost 8,000 doors total. It’s great, I’d rather knock on doors of voters and not have to beg people for dollars."
Records from the Illinois State Board of Elections show that Degnen’s campaign received $47,000 in contributions from the Service Employees International Union Political Action Committee in February and March, while Fritchey’s contributions included $54,000 from the Citizens for a More Affordable Cook County PAC in January and February. The latter PAC was formed following sugary beverage tax backlash and was partially funded by the beverage industry.
Degnen said that voters were ready for change from incumbents "across the board," and that the climate surrounding causes such as the "#MeToo" movement may have positively contributed.
"I think there were a lot of women who showed they felt somewhat disenfranchised. They felt motivated to encourage change," Degnen said.
The former lawyer, environmental engineer and Illinois Public Health Department deputy general counsel said that she would spend time familiarizing herself with her role and the makeup of the county board before taking office, and that she would continue to take the role as a full-time job.
"I do have quite a bit of time (before taking office.) I intend to go to board meetings regularly, go to all the alderman touching this district, meeting the commissioners I don’t know yet, and feel out the personality of those surrounding pending legislation," Degnen said. "Additionally, creative revenue sources were a benchmark of this campaign, so just making sure there are some ideas ready for the board (is a priority)."
Degnen’s platform included increased support for health programs such as County Care, and heightened enforcement of environmental regulations as a wildlife protection and revenue tools. She also proposed an initiative that would require each commissioner to annually devise a sustainable revenue generation idea.
The victory was a shock to supporters of 8-year incumbent, zoning lawyer and former state representative Fritchey, whose lengthy history included outspoken opposition to the repealed soda tax, an ordinance to limit county property and sales tax hikes until 2020, efforts for the cost-saving merger of the Offices of Clerk and Recorder of Deeds, and support for marijuana decriminalization and placement of the advisory referendum question about recreational legalization on Tuesday’s ballot.
Fritchey tweeted a message to Degnen that said, "I just wanted to say congratulations. You have the opportunity to do some great things for a lot of people, I hope you use it well."