Though the dust was still setting Wednesday in some of Cook County’s primary races, at least two incumbents were ousted while a third was bracing for a potential upset loss.
Chicago Ald. George Cardenas, the Democratic primary challenger to Board of Review Commissioner Tammy Wendt, declared victory against the embattled county official Tuesday night and was leading her in unofficial results by about 13 points as of Wednesday afternoon.
Meanwhile, Wendt’s colleague, Commissioner Michael Cabonargi, was trailing his Democratic primary opponent Samantha Steele by 3 points, early returns showed. If he joins Wendt in losing his seat, then the majority of the three-member panel leading the tax appeals agency will have been ousted by voters this primary season.
A third Board of Review commissioner and the body’s chair, Larry Rogers Jr., is unopposed in his bid for reelection.
Also Tuesday, Democratic socialist Anthony Quezada assumed a win over Cook County Commissioner Luis Arroyo Jr. in the Democratic primary, signaling a leftward shift in the County Board district drawn solely within the city’s Northwest Side. According to the results as of Wednesday, Quezada was leading the incumbent by about 13 points.
The blows to sitting officials on the County Board and Board of Review came as more well-known local officials — Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, Assessor Fritz Kaegi and Sheriff Tom Dart — clinched their Democratic nominations in reelection bids Tuesday.
Wendt did not respond to requests for comment following her apparent loss in the Board of Review race, and Cardenas said she has not called to concede, signaling potential trouble ahead for a smooth transition for her presumptive successor. No Republican ran for the seat in Tuesday’s primary.
“I don’t know that she will concede,” Cardenas said. “If she’s not paying attention to what the ethics (board) was telling her, I’m sure that she’s not — I don’t know what happens.”
Cardenas was referring to Wendt’s hiring of her cousin, Todd Thielmann, to serve as her top staffer despite a countywide ban on nepotism. That job offer — extended shortly after Wendt’s surprise win against a Republican incumbent, Dan Patlak, in 2020 — has led to months of controversy for the two.
Their woes included admonishment from Cabonargi and Rogers, a watchdog investigation, a $2,000 fine from the ethics board and a lawsuit from that same body. Ultimately, Wendt fired Thielmann earlier this month.
A City Council member since 2003 and currently Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s deputy floor leader, Cardenas said his triumph signals that “folks are tired of the same politics.” He vowed to cut out the acrimony among Board of Review leaders. Wendt has clashed with the other two commissioners — a dynamic she has attributed to sexism.
Cardenas also said he wants an “alert system” to track when Board of Review employees work on files to ensure that no one is playing favorites.
“That type of accountability and transparency is important so there’s no shenanigans going on,” Cardenas said.
Cabonargi’s campaign declined to comment Wednesday, adding that the wait for mail-in ballots makes the race still too close to call. His opponent, Steele, did not respond to requests for comment.
Steele previously worked on the transition team for Kaegi’s office — which has recently quarreled with the Board of Review over who is to blame for this year’s late property tax bills — and has worked in various assessor and tax appeal posts in Indiana. She is not related to Kari Steele, who unsuccessfully challenged Kaegi in the Democratic primary.
Cabonargi hails from the Democratic Party establishment, having earned its endorsements for reelection this year as well as for his failed 2020 bid against Iris Martinez for Cook County Circuit Court clerk. He has been a Board of Review commissioner since 2011 and was previously a prosecutor in the Chicago office of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.
Quezada, the Democratic nominee of the 8th District on the county board, said his win over sitting commissioner Arroyo Jr., whose father was sentenced to 57 months in prison in May, spells a new era for Chicago’s Northwest Side.
“Clearly it says that we have a progressive community but, more importantly, I think people are done with corporate politics,” Quezada said. “I think they’re done with the status quo. They want to see change.”
Quezada, a current staffer for 35th Ward Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa, is believed to be the first Democratic socialist poised to join county government. The nominee is so far unopposed in the general election and said he wants to prioritize affordable housing and mental health care in his first days in office.
Also following Tuesday’s primary, the 9th District of Cook County Board will see a general election face-off between Republican Matt Podgorski and Democrat Maggie Trevor. The swing district on the Far Northwest Side and northwest suburbs has been occupied by Pete Silvestri since the 1990s, but he plans to step down this year, leaving one of two GOP seats on the county board up for grabs.
Podgorski, who easily won Tuesday’s primary, said he will focus on rising crime and inflation while Trevor said she plans to advocate for health care access including reproductive health services.
The other Republican on the county board, Commissioner Sean Morrison, beat a primary challenger in his bid for reelection to the 17th District in the southwest suburbs. On the other side, Daniel Calandriello appeared to emerge as that district’s Democratic nominee.
In another race to replace an outgoing incumbent, Prairie State College Trustee Monica Gordon of Flossmoor beat Hazel Crest Mayor Vernard Alsberry and two others in the Democratic primary for Cook County Board 5th District.
Retiring Commissioner Deborah Sims, who represented the district for 28 years, endorsed Gordon and said she believed another Black woman should represent the district.
Gordon said Wednesday it was “a tremendous honor” to win the primary, thanking supporters, Sims and several labor unions who backed her. “This is a victory not only for me, but for all residents of the 5th District,” she said.