Yarbrough eyeing Illinois secretary of state bid: ‘Everybody wants to be secretary of state’

Yarbrough eyeing Illinois secretary of state bid: ‘Everybody wants to be secretary of state’

Cook County Clerk Karen A. Yarbrough chats with candidates as they file their nominating petitions last year. | Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times file

It’s one of the most coveted elected offices in Illinois — full of easy publicity, thousands of jobs and the potential to serve as a stepping stone to the governor’s mansion.

Cook County Clerk Karen Yarbrough said Tuesday that she’s giving a run for Illinois secretary of state “great consideration.”

“I haven’t made a decision yet, but I am thinking about it — I’ve been thinking about it for a long time,” Yarbrough said.

She definitely wouldn’t run though, should Secretary of State Jesse White decide to seek reelection to the position he’s held since 1998.

“Nobody is going to run against someone who wins all 102 counties,” Yarbrough said.

White pulled off that feat in 2002.

The former baseball player in the Chicago Cubs organization hit what the late Sun-Times political columnist Steve Neal dubbed “the political equivalent of a grand slam” in his 2002 reelection bid, becoming the first African-American candidate to carry all the state’s counties and only the second Democrat since 1978.

White, 86, said last year that he would not seek a seventh term in 2022, but the Near North Side Democrat has reversed retirement plans before.

Yarbrough is betting that this time, White means it.

“I can’t imagine [running against White] but I don’t think he will — he’s served honorably and done a decent job,” she said.

Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White throws out a ceremonial first pitch in 2016.David Banks/AP file
Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White throws out a ceremonial first pitch before a baseball game between the Chicago Cubs and the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2016.

Yarbrough said she expects there to be a lot of people throwing their hats into the ring for the contest, which is a little less than two years away.

“Everybody wants to be secretary of state,” Yarbrough said.

That’s not much of an exaggeration — among politicians. It’s one of the most coveted elected offices in Illinois — full of easy publicity, thousands of jobs and the potential to serve as a stepping stone to the governor’s mansion.

Former Illinois Treasurer and U.S. Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias told Politico Tuesday he’s also eyeing the office, which produces $2 billion in annual revenue for the state, administering driver’s license and license plates among other services.

Democrat Alexi Giannoulias meets with Republican Senator-elect Mark Kirk at Billy Goat’s Tavern a day after Kirk won their 2010 election contest for U.S. Senate.Scott Stewart/Sun-Times file
Democrat Alexi Giannoulias meets with Republican Senator-elect Mark Kirk at Billy Goat’s Tavern a day after Kirk won their 2010 election contest for U.S. Senate.

Yarbrough said Giannoulias called her on Monday and asked if she was also considering it.

Like White, Yarbrough has a long history in politics and government though she’s only been county clerk for two years.

She currently oversees elections, birth and death certificates and other public records in the county. She’s also been a state representative and the county’s recorder of deeds — an office that will soon merge with hers.

On the political side, she’s a committeeperson representing west suburban Proviso Township for the Cook County Democratic Party, where she’s also the treasurer. She’s also a member of the party’s state central committee and serves as vice chair of the Democratic Party of Illinois.

Cook County Clerk Karen Yarbrough participates in the Illinois delegation’s Call to Action during the Democratic National Convention in August.Screenshot
Cook County Clerk Karen Yarbrough participates in the Illinois delegation’s Call to Action during the Democratic National Convention in August.

Yarbrough has already started thinking about her platform, which she says would focus on technology so that people can do more online rather than waiting in lines at the secretary of state.

If Yarbrough sees the office as a stepping stone, she’s not volunteering that information.

White made it clear when he was first elected in 1998 that he had no interest in using the position to run for higher office.

That was significant since the previous two secretaries of state — Republicans George Ryan and Jim Edgar — both used the office as a springboard to successful campaigns for governor. Before Edgar, Democrat Alan Dixon used it to win a U.S. Senate seat.

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