Updated at 1:22 p.m.
Dorothy Brown, the embattled clerk of the Cook County Circuit Court who has been in office for nearly 20 years, does not plan to run for reelection, WBEZ has confirmed.
“I just think it’s a perfect time,” Brown said in an interview with WBEZ Wednesday.
Once she reaches 20 years in 2020, Brown said she can draw down on her county pension. She said she likely would become a consultant and would like to continue her community activism, especially helping people expunge their court records.
On Monday, WBEZ reported that Brown had less than $5,300 in her campaign fund, Friends of Dorothy Brown, as of June 30. That’s the most recent quarterly report filed with the Illinois State Board of Elections. So far four Democrats are vying for her job. Two of them have at least $500,000 in their campaign funds, records show.
In an interview, Brown said she thought for a while about not running for re-election, which is why her campaign fund has so little money in it.
She said a federal corruption probe into her office did not influence her decision, adding that she’s never talked to investigators.
“I have operated at the highest of integrity,” Brown said. “(And I) will continue to do that. … (I) feel very good about what I’ve accomplished there.”
As clerk, Brown is the record-keeper of one of the largest court systems in the nation. Her tenure has been mired in controversy. Critics for years have chastised Brown for the old-school way she runs her office —think lots of court documents still on paper rather than digitized, and missing files. Brown has complied with a court ruling to put some files online.
Brown has also been caught up in a federal corruption probe into hiring practices in her office that cost her the endorsement of the Cook County Democratic Party, a power player in getting out the vote for candidates. Brown herself has not been charged with wrongdoing.
None of this has stopped Brown from holding on to her job and even running for Chicago mayor. She has wide name recognition, particularly on the South and West sides of Chicago. She won reelection as Circuit Court clerk in 2016 with 67% of the vote despite the federal investigation.
Asked about criticism that her office has not digitized enough records, she said: “I am so sick of those lies. We have brought that office into the 21st century. Every division except for minor traffic tickets, every document that comes into that office is digitized.”
She said all records coming into the courts should be digitized by next year. Older court documents are digitized when someone requests one of them. But it likely will take contracting with a company to digitize all of those, Brown said.
The Democratic Party’s slating ritual returns on Friday, when it’s scheduled to endorse candidates for various offices. That includes deciding whom to back to run for Brown’s job in 2020. Four challengers are scheduled to give their best pitches once again.
The party’s seal of approval comes with manpower and money. In other words, candidates with the party’s backing get lots of help to get their names out to voters.
Kristen Schorsch covers Cook County politics for WBEZ. Follow her @kschorsch.