Cook County Commissioner Bill Lowry (D-3rd) declared his bid for a second term in office Thursday, running on his accomplishments over the previous three years and outlining his platform for four more years in a Herald interview before the making the campaign official.
"I've enjoyed the service, but there's a lot more to do. We've certainly done things over the first three and a half years that I've been in office, but the work must continue," he said. "In order for you to really be impactful, you've got to be proximate. You've got to be right in the middle of the situation that you're trying to help. So that's what we're doing here."
He said there are four areas "we've been working on and that we're going to continue focusing on":
- Economic equity
- Criminal justice reform
- Health care in the district
- Youth education
The county government has the most direct purview over health care and criminal justice, running both the Cook County Health and Hospitals System as well as the county jail.
Asked how he addressed economic equity, Lowry pointed to the Good Faith Effort Transparency Report Ordinance he passed in 2019, which requires any entity bidding on a county contract seeking a full or partial waiver from minority- or women-owned business (MBE/WBE) requirements complete a report he authored detailing their efforts at minority participation.
"What we have found, as a result of that ordinance, is that there are fewer waiver requests," Lowry said, "which means there's more engagement. And we have minority and women-owned business enterprises that are now at the table to a degree they weren't before, and that's exactly what we had hoped to accomplish with that ordinance. It also brings more transparency to Cook County government."
Lowry also brought the Cook County Cannabis Commission into existence. Cannabis in Illinois has been and is a state issue, from legalization by the General Assembly to the issuance of business licenses by the Department of Financial and Professional Regulation.
Much has been made about the lack of people of color in holding those business licenses; Lowry said his role is engagement and inclusion through oversight of social equity license distribution and resources from revenue from recreational sales are "falling in the disproportionately impacted areas of Cook County, as was the legislative intent."
The Cannabis Commission has focused on economic development and social equity applicants, public health, policy and legislation, and criminal justice reform and restorative justice.
"To give you an idea in real time of how this can jive, one of the major obstacles for social equity applicants in getting recreational cannabis licensure is that you have to have some kind of facility that you can point to as part of your application process," said Lowry. Ergo the Cannabis Commission has reached out to the Cook County Land Bank Authority and its new head to try to get applicants land. "It's that type of effort that really the county can play relative to this overall initiative," he said.
"We're just trying to make sure that the social equity applicants are part of the licensure process, because without that, you're not part of the industry," he said. Some 3rd District constituents were part of groups that received licenses, he said, and he said he will try to ensure that cannabis businesses are located in the district as well.
He said the county board is monitoring the expungement processes of those who have been charged with cannabis-related crimes alongside the state's attorney's office. He claimed that 48% of those in the Cook County Jail have mental health concerns, illustrating the need for proper mental health care resources outside of its walls.
"While we are resourcing mental health care resources within the Cook County Jail, I have espoused us putting resources within the community so that we can keep those individuals from going to that jail," he said.
"In addition, we are working on an ID card so that every detainee who is leaving Cook County Jail will leave with an ID card. Our returning citizens need housing, they need transportation, and they need job. And it's very hard to get a bus or train card, let alone an automobile, if you do not have an ID saying who you are. But the ID won't just say who you are. The ID will also be like a debit card in conjunction with a bank. You'll be able to get money out as needed, and you'll also be able to establish credit. These are things that an individual truly needs to truly have a new start, and these are things we can truly do as a Cook County commissioner that other folks haven't done."
In terms of health care, Lowry is happy that Insight Hospital & Medical Center Chicago, 2525 S. Michigan Ave., formerly Mercy Hospital, will open an emergency room with ambulance access, a labor-and-delivery obstetrics unit and mental health services.
And he said the county will be rebuilding Provident Hospital, 500 E. 51st St., in fiscal year 2023. He said he is in conversations with Cook County Health CEO Israel Rocha Jr. about getting Provident's census numbers up now and having its emergency room become full service with ambulance access during the 2022 fiscal year.
That is a priority, he said, even though the University of Chicago Medical Center is adjacent to the hospital over Washington Park, because of Provident's proximity to more of his constituents. "If you have an individual in my household who needs emergency care this afternoon, we shouldn't have to leave the community to get emergency care," said Lowry, who lives in North Kenwood. "You've got University of Chicago, but they're often on bypass."
(In 2019, a Tribune analysis found that the UCMC was on ambulance bypass for 17.2% of a two and a half year period.)
"There are not enough facilities that provide that emergency care," Lowry said. "You need to have the ability to provide that type of care when you need it in your community.
"And it's not just emergency care. We need to also make sure that residents can deliver babies in the district. We shouldn't have to go to Stroger to get emergency care, or to have labor and delivery, or to have mental health care services. And that's what's behind this effort. We want to make sure that the residents of the district have the ability to get any kind of medical care that they need."
"We're fighting for full-service health care opportunities for the entirety of the district," he said. "Our voice should be heard along with others from different levels of the government."
In terms of education — another area that is not under the county's direct oversight — Lowry said he believed that there needs to be trades-and-apprenticeship track for secondary students in addition to a college-bound track. He said he is also working on an anti-bullying ordinance.
"We don't make law, but we can breathe law into the law that reaches us from either Washington or Springfield. There is a state statute that allows for apprenticeship training in high schools, and it is that language that we will breathe life into through an ordinance," he said. "My vision is for any public school in Cook County to have a two-track system, and I truly believe that once we have that two-track system boarded, we're going to see results."
Lowry has also passed an ordinance to allow joint county commission committee meetings.
Lowry's predecessor, Commissioner Jerry "The Iceman" Butler, the soul singer-songwriter, served on the county board for 32 years. Lowry, an attorney by trade, said he would also like to serve as a commissioner for several terms.
"I just made, on Oct. 21, 59, so I've got a whole lot more to give," he said. "This is my personal belief: I think we as a society, we're served by individuals who are willing to serve in the same capacity for a while so that they can truly understand the needs of the position, the needs of those whom they serve. And it takes time to change. It takes time to bring about impact. I've never been comfortable with someone who, before they know where the restroom is of a position they're elected to, they're seeking a different type of position. So I see myself in this position for several terms, and I see myself serving for as long as I can be impactful and can bring about generational change."
The primary election is scheduled for June 28. General Election Day is almost exactly one year out, on Nov. 8, 2022.