Martinez Wins Democratic Race for Cook County Circuit Court Clerk

State Sen. Iris Martinez won the Democratic primary for clerk of the Circuit Court of Cook County after the candidate with the next-highest vote total conceded the race Wednesday.

Martinez jumped to the front of the pack of four candidates on election night, earning 34% of the vote with 94% of precincts reporting as of 11:45 p.m. CST.

After indicating Tuesday night that he was awaiting further results from early votes and mail-in ballots, second-place finisher Michael Cabonargi said in a statement that he had conceded and was "saddened" by the results.

“The voters have spoken, and I’ve called Iris Martinez to extend my congratulations on her victory and wish her the very best. For the first time in two decades there will be a new Clerk of the Courts, and I support our new Democratic nominee for the job," Cabonargi's statement said.

Now, Martinez is set to become the new clerk of the second largest unified court system in the world - an office that has been plagued by scandal and allegations of both inefficiency and corruption.

Months after she was knocked off the ballot in the race for Chicago mayor, incumbent Clerk Dorothy Brown, long the subject of a federal investigation, announced in August that she would not seek another term in the position she was first elected to in 2000.

Federal investigators seized Brown’s cell phone in 2015 while probing a 2011 land deal involving Brown’s husband and a campaign donor. Two of her former employees have since been convicted of perjury for lying to a grand jury about investigations into her office’s alleged bribe-for-jobs scheme.

Overseeing more than 1,300 employees and with an operating budget of more than $100 million dollars, the clerk serves as the official record keeper for the court system - responsible for maintaining all files of the judicial system and collecting court fines and fees, among other duties, for the judicial system that serves 5.2 million people and processes more than 1 million cases a year.

All four candidates who sought the Democratic nomination for the office - all but certain to win in November - painted themselves as reformers looking to modernize the office long plagued by allegations of mismanagement and antiquated systems. The candidates included Martinez, Cabonargi, former Cook County Commissioner Richard Boykin and attorney Jacob Meister.

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Cabonargi earned 27% of the vote on Tuesday night. He is an attorney who has served as a commissioner on the Cook County Board of Review since 2011. Prior to that he investigated fraud cases at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. He received the endorsement of the Cook County Democratic Party.

Boykin is an attorney who represented Cook County's 1st District from 2014 to 2018, perhaps most widely known for his push to repeal the ill-fated soda tax in 2017. He lost his seat in a high-profile upset the following year. Boykin previously served as chief of staff to U.S. Rep. Danny Davis. On Tuesday, he appeared to take third place with 26% of the vote.

Meister is an attorney who founded a non-profit organization focused on civil rights. He previously unsuccessfully ran against Brown in 2016 and for U.S. Senate in 2010. He won 13% of the vote Tuesday night.

Having represented her Northwest Side district since 2003, Martinez was the first Hispanic woman elected to the Illinois Senate in state history and is now an assistant majority leader in the chamber.

All four candidates’ platforms prominently featured pledges for transparency in the office, better technology and digital records, as well as ethics reforms, particularly in the area of patronage hires - all not-so-thinly-veiled criticisms of Brown.

Martinez will go on to face the Republican candidate in the fall, Barbara Bellar.

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