Yarbrough brings energy to virtual convention, juggles party and official posts
Political conventions are famous for the hats.
And Karen Yarbrough wears many. Her official job is Cook County clerk, overseeing elections and safeguarding birth and death certificates and other public records in Illinois’ most populous county.
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.
She’s also been a state representative and the county’s recorder of deeds — an office that will soon merge with hers.
Yarbrough is also an enthusiastic cheerleader for the party, making robocalls to get out the vote before elections and rallying delegates during this week’s Illinois events. But she insists she doesn’t blur the lines. “I walk the line,” Yarbrough said. “I know what my job is, I do my job, and I don’t mix the politics with my job.”
And that’s no easy task, since politics is so much a part of some of the areas her office oversees.
“I’m tired of hearing the narrative about all of these different things that are coming out of the White House, and what I was going to do is focus on November, focus my attention on my job, making sure that people are safe at the voting booths and they can exercise their right to vote and engage young people,” she said. “So, I’m excited.”
With the pandemic scuttling the party’s initial plans to gather in full force in Milwaukee this week, Yarbrough said she was initially concerned about the convention going virtual because “part of a convention has to do with seeing people that you’re used to working with from across the country . . . and we usually only see them at meetings maybe a couple times a year, or at the convention, and so it’s very social.”
“I think people get energy from other people,” Yarbrough said.
And during the often awkward online delegation meetings this week, it was clear Yarbrough’s fellow Democrats were tapping into her energy.
While others seemed perplexed over how close to lean into their laptop screens or whether their voices were muted, Yarbrough always appeared fully engaged, offering enthusiastic two-hand waves and cheers for her fellow Democrats.
“You rock, too” she yelled to guest speaker Delaware Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester on Tuesday and “we love, you, senator” when Sen. Dick Durbin appeared briefly behind his wife, Loretta Durbin.
“I think we all want what Karen’s having,” Mayor Lori Lightfoot joked at one point.
Yarbrough said helping people is what she finds most exciting about being elected and helping the party.
“It’s an honor to serve,” Yarbrough said during Tuesday’s live-streamed meeting. But it hasn’t all been fun and games. Government watchdog Michael Shakman has accused Yarbrough of operating “an illegal patronage employment system,” leading to a federal monitor being ordered for the clerk’s office.
Yarbrough has previously said the allegations against her are “purely personal.”
“I don’t have the time or the inclination to deal with that kind of thing,” she said last November.
This November, Yarbrough says she knows “exactly what we have to do” to help Joe Biden and a certain sorority sister.
Yarbrough is thrilled that California Sen. Kamala Harris was picked for the vice presidential slot. Like Harris, Yarbrough is a member of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority.
And Yarbrough plans to keep her hats straight.
“We know what we need to do on the ground, and that’s where I will be, as the committeeman for Proviso Township,” she said. “And we are planning our work and we’re going to work our plan to make sure that every person that we know goes and votes.”
Cook County Clerk Karen Yarbrough speaks at an Illinois delegation “Call to Action” Thursday evening.