By Rick Romano
The Cook County Board 2nd District commissioner Democratic primary race presents a classic one-on-one battle between an incumbent, Dennis Deer, and a challenger, Andre Smith. The district sprawls north to Division Street, east to Columbus Drive, south to 75th Street, and west to Laramie Avenue.
Incumbent Dennis Deer has served since the other commissioners appointed him in July 2017 after Commissioner Robert Steele died. Deer had worked with Steele, helping his administration form mental health legislation, and voters elected Deer in 2018.
A trained behavioral health specialist with degrees from Jackson State University, the 49-year-old lifelong Lawndale resident said he witnessed a murder as a youngster, which inspired him to help the community. Deer is married with three children.
He said he is proud of his work with Steele in lowering convicted criminal recidivism and addressing racism, gun violence, and mental health—all pieces of what he calls “the trifecta” of pandemic-fueled issues.
“Now that we have a start, we need to take it further,” he said.
Crime must focus on prevention, especially concerning youngsters, he noted, saying, “We have to deal with it from the source because trauma generates more trauma. If a child is exposed to that initial stimuli, it has a great effect on their life. That source includes quality health care, food, and housing.”
Deer said he has stayed in touch with and works with local and national groups that address populations of color, which helps him stay involved in research on causes of trauma and other stimuli that lead to criminal activity.
Healthcare access and dealing with the ongoing effects of COVID begins with developing a concept of a “hospital without walls,” Deer said. It includes reaching out and providing services to underserved populations as well as making those populations comfortable with coming to the hospital.
“There is a feeling that hospitals are a place to visit when someone is dying or dies,” Deer said. “We have the funds on a local, state, and national level to change that perception and make people comfortable with getting help.”
He said the county should support education.
“We have to stand behind our teachers, and we have to provide parenting classes in the schools,” he said. “Too many parents are not prepared to parent. Remember, trauma begets trauma.”
He also advocates including truant officers in school, with proper training because “we have to deal with the trauma that officers deal with as well,” he said.
Deer favors holding the line on property tax increases.
“We are not out of this pandemic yet, so we have to be real with each other and understand that people have been affected financially,” he said. “We have to help them.”
As for ethics reform, it starts with how government officials operates.
“I’ve always hated the notion of pay to play,” he said. “We need to be able to work without owing someone who has paid for our lunch or anything. Decisions should be based on merit.”
Deer’s election web site is www.deerfordistrict2.com.
Andre Smith is a longtime community activist supporting “education not incarceration,” whose political passion ignited by what he described as a very troubled childhood on the South Side.
“I was a real bad kid,” he said. It took a few key adults along the way, including a female police officer who helped him at 16 to reconcile with his mother.
“From that point, I tried to change,” Smith said. “I need to tell you my background because a lot of kids are going through the same things today.”
He eventually earned a GED, attended East-West University in Chicago, and trained as a deep sea diver at the College of Oceaneering in Wilmington, CA. His eclectic background includes spreading his pro-education message by managing a group of rapping Chicago police officers known as the Slick Boys as well as fighting against the planned closing of predominantly Black and Latino public schools in 2015. In 2021, he stood with striking members of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) in a protest of working conditions at the county’s Stroger Hospital.
The 54-year-old is a single father.
His five-point plan as commissioner would be to invest in parenting, high-crime neighborhoods, economic development, and mental health services while collaborating with government officials at all levels.
When it comes to crime, Smith said elected officials need to be more accountable.
“Politicians cannot use anti-violence organizations for their political gain,” he said. “They need to be accountable by using funds better and being more visible in their community.”
His anti-crime platform includes using county resources to identify and address crime’s root causes. He said the defund the police movement has distracted from those causes.
“I promise to bring new and creative ideas,” he noted.
Turning to healthcare, Smith said hospitals need reform.
“I’ve been a patient in the hospital, and I have visited them, and one thing I have found out is that most hospitals are dirty, Smith said. “They keep you in there for a long time and treat you like you are on public aid even if you aren’t. Those in public office should make sure everyone gets respectful treatment and is safe.”
In discussing education, Smith called for certified and accountable teachers.
“Schools need to be safe, and everyone involved, including politicians, needs to be held responsible for that,” he said.
On property taxes, Smith said there is no room for inequities.
“Taxes are being applied the same for properties located in Beverly and the far North Side,” he said. “That is impossible because the areas are so different. That has to change.”
Smith also advocates for ethics reform. His platform’s has three main points consist of strengthening the county ethics ordinance, supporting term-limit legislation, and holding regular community meetings to engage constituents in county government.
Smith’s election website is www.andreforcommissioner.com.