By Dermot Connolly
With so many incumbents running unopposed in the Nov. 6 election, the Cook County Board’s 17th District race is among the most contentious in the region.
Incumbent Commissioner Sean Morrison, 51, of Palos Park, is seeking his first full term in office. He was appointed in July 2015 to complete the unexpired term of Elizabeth Gorman, who stepped down at the time to take a job in the private sector. She is now the executive director of the Illinois Tollway.
Running against him is Democrat Abdelnasser Rashid, 29, of Justice, who left his position as deputy chief of staff for Cook County David Orr to run for his first elective office.
The district includes all or parts of municipalities in the townships of Orland, Palos, Worth, Lyons, Bremen, Elk Grove, Lemont, Leyden, Maine, Proviso and Riverside.
“It is going to be close, but I feel really good about the campaign,” said Rashid during a telephone interview on Monday.
He and his wife, Fidaa, an attorney and former Worth Library Board trustee, have two daughters, Alia, 3, and Zulfa, 1.
Morrison and his wife, Lora, a registered nurse, also have two young daughters.
In addition to being the Palos Township Republican committeeman, Morrison has been chairman of the Cook County Republican Party since April 2016. He is also state central committeeman for the 3rd Congressional District.
A Harvard University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in social studies and minor in computer science, Rashid said that while working in Orr’s office, he visited local communities to promote passage of a minimum wage bill and the right for workers to earn 40 hours of sick time per year.
“I saw (Morrison) there, urging the municipalities to opt out of the Cook County laws,” he said. “I felt he was taking away workers’ rights,” he said.
Morrison was unavailable for comment this week, but most local communities did opt out of the county laws because opponents asserted that the laws represented too much interference by government in the private sector, and would put small businesses at a disadvantage when competing with those in nearby counties.
“I also want to make sure we lower property taxes for residents, make sure wealthy corporations pay their fair share, and improve healthcare services. Those are some of my main goals,” said Rashid.
As Orr’s deputy chief of staff, Rashid said he was dedicated to making government more efficient, ethical and transparent. Among other things, he said he helped cut costs by combining the recorder of deeds office with that of the Cook County clerk.
“I worked to protect our elections also. My three years there was a great learning experience,” said Rashid, describing Orr as “one of the best public servants in Illinois.”
The deputy state director for Sen. Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign in 2016 said his “passion for justice and fairness” is driving him in this race.
Morrison, the founder and CEO of Morrison Security Corp, led the successful effort on the Cook County Board to overturn the unpopular sweetened beverage tax last year.
He has criticized Rashid during the campaign for his connection to the Sanders campaign, saying it makes him too radical for the district.
The two candidates tangled in July over an illustration on a political leaflet put out by Morrison criticizing Rashid for mudslinging.
The illustration showed a person being splattered by mud when opening mail from Rashid, the son of Palestinian immigrants, who asserted that it was making subtle reference to explosions related to Middle East terrorism.
“I think that was stereotyping,” said Rashid.
In a statement Morrison issued following the controversy, Morrison said, “The cartoon on my comparison brochure is a standard stock political image used many times before to identify typical negative campaign tactics currently employed by my opponent. Labeling it anything other than a generic political cartoon is desperately grasping at straws. My opponent is not the victim here despite a very weak attempt to play the ethnic card.”
Rashid also faults Morrison for supporting President Trump and “defending Sharon Brannigan,” a Republican Palos Township trustee who has faced heavy criticism for more than a year for comments made on Facebook.
“I think it is deeply problematic that he looks the other way when people attack immigrants and others,” said Rashid.
Brannigan has since apologized for the comments Rashid called “outrageous,” which suggested that undocumented Middle Eastern students were coming into local schools, and Muslim immigrants weren’t integrating into the community.
Since the comments came to light more than a year ago, protesters calling for her resignation or removal have been attending Palos Township meetings each month.
In addition to being the Palos Township Republican committeeman, Morrison has been chairman of the Cook County Republican Party since April 2016. He also is state central committeeman for the 3rd Congressional District.
Because of his leadership role in the party, Rashid blames Morrison for allowing Arthur Jones to run unopposed and win the Republican nomination for the 3rd Congressional District. Jones is a Holocaust denier and former leader of the American Nazi Party.
Morrison has spoken out forcefully against Jones and refused him admission to the 8th Annual Suburban Republican Family Picnic held recently in Palos Park. He also has urged Republicans to vote for one of the registered write-in candidates, either Dr. Kenneth Yerkes of Oak Lawn or Justin Hanson of LaGrange.
But Rashid said that is “too little, too late.”
“He knew Jones was collecting signatures to run last year, and as a leader of his party, he should have found a candidate to run against him,” said the Democrat.