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Crime, SAFE-T Act top voter concerns in Cook County’s 17th District

Crime and the possible ramifications of a sweeping criminal justice reform law, the SAFE-T Act, are primary concerns among voters in Cook County’s 17th District, according to the incumbent commissioner and his challenger.

Incumbent Republican Sean Morrison, seeking a second full term, says he fears more people charged with violent crimes will be released without bond or put on electronic monitoring when portions of the law take effect Jan. 1.

“We’re experiencing the intentional soft-on-crime policies engineered (by Cook County officials) and that will now come to the rest of Illinois,” he said. “There is nothing safe about this act. The things that are in that bill are horrid.”

Morrison is challenged by Democrat Dan Calandriello, a former Cook County assistant state’s attorney who has a private law practice in Palos Hills.

Dan Calandriello

“As a former prosecutor, I know how the county needs to react to the SAFE-T Act, to get the evidence needed so we can keep people in jail,” Calandriello said. “I know the ins and outs of the system.”

The 17th District includes all or parts of southwest suburban townships including Bremen, Orland, Palos and Worth and extends north to include Elk Grove Village, Schaumburg and O’Hare International Airport.

Morrison became the district’s commissioner in July 2015, replacing Elizabeth “Liz” Doody Gorman, who left the county board after almost 13 years to take a position in the private sector.

He was elected to a full term in 2018, and in this past June’s Republican primary defeated Gorman. He lives in Palos Park with his wife and two daughters and is founder and chief executive of Alsip-based Morrison Security Corp.

Calandriello, 38, spent eight years as an assistant Cook County state’s attorney and has been in private practice for a little more than five years. He served two terms as Orland Park trustee and did not seek reelection in 2021. He lives in Orland Park with his wife and three children.

Morrison is chairman of Cook County’s Republican Party and one of just two Republican commissioners on the county board. However, his GOP colleague on the board, Pete Silvestri of the 9th District, is not seeking reelection.

County commissioners are paid $85,000, but earlier this year approved a 10% increase, bumping the salary to $93,500, starting with the next term. Morrison was among a handful of commissioners voting against the increase, which also calls for regular annual pay increases of up to 3%.

Morrison said county data show that at any given time there are hundreds of people on electronic monitoring who have been charged with various weapons related offenses, some of them violent.

He said those numbers will likely increase under provisions of the SAFE-T Act, and could make it even more difficult for police departments.

“Police forces are already decimated, morale-wise,” Morrison said. “This is only going to be exacerbated with the SAFE-T law.”

As police departments try to woo new recruits, the Chicago Tribune reported about criticisms leveled against Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, including a large number of assistant state’s attorney’s and other staffers resigning amid low morale.

Foxx blamed many of the resignations as part of the great resignation that occurred nationwide as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to her office, as of Oct. 1, the office had 166 vacant positions out of the 1,432 positions budgeted for this year. Of 746 budgeted assistant state attorney positions, 107 are vacant, Foxx’s office said.

In a recent statement, Calandriello decried what he called a “mass exodus of experienced assistant state’s attorneys” and that, if elected, he would work to boost pay and salary structures to retain prosecutors.

He said he would also work to increase staffing in specific targeted units of the state’s attorney’s office such as prosecuting gang-related crimes, firearms offenses and organized thefts.

Calandriello said, particularly in light of the SAFE-T Act, more has to be done to hold onto experienced prosecutors.

“We need incentives to keep those senior attorneys and do a better job of bringing in new talent,” he said.

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At the end of the third quarter, Morrison showed total receipts during the July-September period of more than $361,000, including a personal loan to his campaign of $100,000 at the end of August, according to campaign financial disclosures.

Since that time, his campaign recorded, on Oct. 27, an in-kind contribution from the Illinois Republican Party of $21,700 for campaign printing and mailing, according to financial disclosures.

Expenses in the third quarter totaled about $147,000, and at the end of September he had more than $168,000 available to spend.

Calandriello’s campaign recorded third-quarter receipts of a bit more than $29,500 and expenses of $14,000, according to disclosure statements.

He recorded an in-kind contribution Oct. 29 from the Democratic Party of Illinois for $7,500 for campaign mailings.

At the end of September, Calandriello reported he had a little more than $19,000 available to spend on the campaign.

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