Yar­brough brings en­ergy to vir­tual con­ven­tion, jug­gles party and of­fi­cial posts

Chicago Sun-Times - - TOP NEWS - BY RACHEL HIN­TON, STAFF RE­PORTER rhin­ton@sun­times.com | @rrhin­ton

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.

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