Cook County Clerk David Orr

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We’re on the verge of the March Primaries, but Cook County Clerk David Orr says voter registration is up in suburban Cook County—but not by much. Registration went down in the city of Chicago, he says, and there’s not much interest in the primary. But why? With early voting now underway, Chicago Tonight spoke with David Orr to learn more about voter registration during election season, his reaction to the proposed “Sit Down and Shut Up” ordinance and more. Excerpts:

What’s going on with voter registration?

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There’s not a lot going on, unfortunately. We do sweeps and we’ve gathered 9,000 voter registrations. Registration is up in suburban Cook County, but down in the city of Chicago. It’s up, but not much. There’s not a lot of interest in the primary, but we’ll see the interest go up in November. There’s no president in the Democratic field and we only have one hugely contested race. It’s a very different species this year, and the voters know that. There’s not as much registration as I would’ve liked

Where does the blame go for that?

There’s no blame, it’s just the circumstances. Voters are not dumb. In the fall, when there’s a hotly contested race for president, then it will be key. You’ll see higher turnouts when there’s a hotly contested congressional race. Let’s put it like this: when it’s a really hot primary, it might mean a 45 percent turnout, like when President Obama ran. The rest of the time, it’s in the 20 percent range.

Is there any lasting effect?

First of all, those numbers will dramatically go up—toward 80 percent—in November unless one party seems to be totally sweeping the election, and I doubt that. So it will be a dramatically significant turnout. People in Illinois don’t vote in primaries. Some people in some places don’t like to be identified. Legally, anybody in the polling place has a right to know if you’re Democratic or Republican, and people don’t like that. And if you’re a Republican in Chicago, you’re not going to be bragging about it; that’s the same if you’re a Democrat in DuPage County.

Are there any primary races you’re watching?

I’m most concerned because I need to be prepared. Some of these hot congressional races are important…Debbie Halvorson and Jessie Jackson, Jr., for example, that’s a hot one. The biggest county one is the clerk of the Circuit Court.

Tell me your reaction to the “Sit Down and Shut Up” rule proposed by Ald. Dick Mell (33rd) and Ald. Ed Burke (14th).

I don’t claim to know a lot, but when Carol Marin came to talk to me, my point is that there’s a fine line here, particularly in Chicago and Cook County, with a history of keeping the public out and ignoring them, like we’ve had a public hearing on the budget the day after Thanksgiving. I see a history of basically trying to make the public more difficult to be heard. I don’t think you need to pass new laws to have new behavior. I think we’re over-killed. Right now, you could clear the chambers, and sometimes people snicker. And if politicians can’t handle that, they shouldn’t be in the chambers. My colleagues threaten me, not the public. My point on this is, given our history, it’s so important to hear from citizens, particularly today when so many of them are suffering and so many of them have grievances.

How do you think Mayor Emanuel has been doing?

I’ve been fairly complimentary toward Rahm on a couple things – his organization, his energy. He jumped into this job with enormous speed and energy. I’ve been a fairly serious critic of his TIF abuse, and I think he’s making strides. I’ve been concerned about the waste in City Hall. I don’t like the recent red-light camera thing, Of course, I don’t want to see people going 100 miles per hour, but I think it milks folks out of every dollar they got, and I don’t think it’s the way we should be treating our citizens.

What’s your reaction to the G8/NATO summits?

I don’t want to see all the focus in the media of what we’re doing to limit the protesters. This is an important issue. In this world, there’s a lot of suffering and financial inequality. This is an issue that needs to be heard and discussed. From my point of view, as an issue guy, I want to see that in the news. I’ve not been asked to negotiate, but the key is balance to protect the public and giving the public a right to protest. I think that’s what makes the country great. Look at women 40 years ago compared today, women now have rights and I think most people would agree that protest was an important factor in that. The other point is, not to condemn anything we’re doing now, but history shows that the government usually overreacts. We don’t want to deprive people of their right to be heard, and if we don’t like the message, we shouldn’t be more difficult. No matter what the message is, people have the right to protest.

What’s your reaction to Bill Beavers’ indictment last week?

Do you know what he called me? He called me “little poop butt.” Bill Beavers has hated me. When John Stroger had his stroke right before the 2006 County Board primary, I made charges that he was misrepresenting Stroger to make it look like he was OK to keep independent candidate out of the race. Beavers responded by calling me a “little poop butt.” Sometimes you’re defined by your enemies and I’m pleased by that. He never bothered me, but every chance he got, he tried to attack me. In a rough, tough world of Chicago politics, I’m glad I’ve not been on his side, let’s put it like that. In light of his indictment, those are strong charges. If they turn out to be true, I’m not going to sit and gloat, but it’s one more example of how extraordinarily corrupt this city and town are. It’s at a tremendous negative cause to the public.

This interview has been condensed and edited.

Chicago Tonight also spoke with Ald. Dick Mell (33rd) to learn more about the "Sit Down and Shut Up Ordinance." Read what he had to say below, and be sure to check out the attached PDF that details the ordinance.

Ald. Dick Mell (33rd) won’t be encouraging Chicagoans to “Sit Down and Shut Up” anytime soon because the eponymous ordinance, he says, is “dead on arrival.”

The details of the proposal included no clapping or booing, which essentially prohibited response from the public. Mell says it mimics the rules at the federal and state levels, but that “Chicago has never practiced that type of control.”

But, then, why did he sponsor it?

“It was a very busy day,” Mell says, “and, inadvertently, we didn’t read it.”

Mell says he has no idea who wrote the proposal, but he does know how it came to be.

At a previous City Council meeting, Mell says someone got hit in the head with a picket sign, spurring a request from the Sergeant-at-Arms to change Rules of Order and Procedure.

But after a more careful review, Mell says the proposal far overreaches the scope he anticipated.

“It doesn’t make any sense to have somebody not clap, or even, for example, boo. No one really cares,” Mell says. “This thing will not see the light of the day.”

Ald. Ed Burke (14th), another sponsor, did not return Chicago Tonight’s phone calls, but Mell says he spoke to the alderman, who agrees.

“I’d be one of the last people [to silence the public],” Mell says.


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