On the night of Wednesday, April 14, the Cook County 16th District Democratic Committee convened in Berwyn. The committee consists of the eight Democratic committeepersons from the seven townships and one ward of Chicago which overlap the 16th District. The purpose of the meeting was to interview candidates and select one of them to replace Jeff Tobolski on the Cook County Board.

I was one of those candidates. I knew such a meeting would be held at some point, so I had reached out to the Cook County Democratic Party to find the details. I received information, followed up, and was invited to submit a resume, show up that night promptly at 7, and wait in my car until someone came to get me.

I arrived at 6:45 to find a protest underway. There were about 20-25 protesters, plus a few Berwyn police officers. Everyone was wearing masks. I’ve seen a lot of protests, but never one like this. They were there to protest one particular candidate.

That candidate wasn’t me. The protesters had no idea who I was. Neither did the committee. I’m a software engineer. I moved to Brookfield last April. I served two terms on a Local School Council in Chicago. 

All that doesn’t add up to much name recognition around here. I was the classic nobody that nobody sent. Even so, after 70 minutes in my car, it was my turn. I went in and made my case to the committee.

What I was doing that night was participating in an important democratic process. Democracy in America — and especially in Illinois — can be very weird, and could use a lot of improvement. 

But what any healthy democracy needs is greater participation, even in the midst of a pandemic. Gigantic questions today confront all levels of government. Cook County, for example, faces a major revenue shortfall and higher expenses all at once. 

We need bold, innovative thinking to tackle all of the problems the pandemic and ensuing shutdown are creating. Some of those innovative ideas will come from people cooped up at home. We need to ensure everyone is able to participate.

Alas, the committee did not choose me. Their choice was Frank Aguilar, Morton College trustee, former Republican state representative, and the candidate who had inspired the protest. 

Was his selection the result of a small group of people behind closed doors selecting an insider? Or was it the result of an open process where average people had an opportunity to present their case and share their ideas? Well, it was both. Like I said, democracy can be very weird.

My brief candidacy for the county board was truly a surreal experience. I am thankful to the committee though for the opportunity to participate. I hope that the committeepersons, and our new county commissioner, will look for ways to encourage and expand participation. Especially now, our democracy and our country depend on it.

Phil Huckleberry is a Brookfield resident. For a more detailed story about that night, see his full blog post at metaspiel.substack.com/p/a-cold-april-night-in-berwyn