Jaylin McClinton is running for the Cook County commissioner representing the 5th Districtand, in so doing, is aiming for history.
Should he be elected, McClinton will be the first Black, openly gay Cook County and the second openly LGBTQ+ commissioner overall, after current commissioner Kevin Morrisonand he has already garnered the support of politicians like state Rep. Lamont Robinson, who has made history himself as the first Black, openly gay person in his position.
McClinton, who's about to graduate from law school, recently talked with Windy City Times about the reasons behind his run as well as things he's discovered about himself.
Windy City Times: This is your first time running for something this important. Tell me a couple of the lessons you've learned so far in running this campaign.
Jaylin McClinton: I think it's interesting because I've hovered around politics and public service my entire life, and I will tell you that one thing I realized very quickly is that being an operative and being a candidate are completely different. For me, some of the early values that have resonated [with me] are remaining steadfast in my convictions. Many people are so disenchanted with our democracy that when I'm knocking on doors, they're slammed in my face because people are so frustrated with the system and with the rampant neglect and corruption. Having grit and not feeding into the idea of rejection [are important].
I think it's also important to surround yourself with people who are truly supportive because politics can be lonely. For the better part of January and February, I was out knocking on doors in 19-degree weather just to get the minimum number of signaturesand that process is very lonely. You learn who your real friends are. But I'm excited about the opportunity to represent my community, which has raised me for 28 years.
Having a true commitment to community is so important. Frankly, I could choose to be anywhere in the world right now, right? I could be in New York City, California or Detroitbut there was something about being in this community that has always stood out to me. That's why I came back to Chicago after working in D.C.
WCT: You're in Roseland. Why did you decide to run for commissioner instead of an office that could more directly impact your community, like alderman?
JM: That's a great question and it's one I get asked often. I think this region of Chicago and Cook County is one that's been neglected and ignored. I've always been infatuated by policy and this idea of being a lawyer-legislatorlike Barack Obama and Abner Mikvawould allow [me] to help fundamentally change people's lives. I see it even more with people like Mondaire Jones so being an alderman never jumped out to me because I see these policy role models and what they do.
While there's an opportunity to impact policy, the role of alderman (quite frankly) is administrative in the sense that you're dealing with people's personalities and attitudes as they relate to their trash pickup, streetlights, tree removal, etc. I just didn't feel that was the right entry point for me, but I'm certainly looking forward to working with our next alderman, as the current one [Carrie Austin] has announced her retirement. Similarly, Deborah Sims [the current commissioner] is retiring, so I think there's an opportunity in this region to elect someone who's going to show up for the residents of the 5th District.
WCT: If Commissioner Sims decided not to retire, would you still run?
JM: Public service is something I've been thinking about actively for some time now, and in 2022 I was already contemplating a run for some office. This was one of the positions on the table for me. It just so happened that the stars aligned and she announced her retirement.
WCT: I looked at your website, and did not see any issues on your platform. Candidates say they want to help peoplebut I don't know specifically HOW you want to help people.
JM: Yes, and my website will be undergoing a facelift shortly. This first phase is about introducing myself to people.
There are four to five pillars. The first is healthcare. Simply put, we're still in a pandemic and it's affected Black and LGBTQ people disproportionately. Working to get out of it is a huge priorityand what better place to do that than at the place that [involves] the health and hospital systems? This district also has an overwhelming senior population. I live with my grandparents and I'm a caregiver to one who has Alzheimer'sso you better believe they're going to be senior advisors to me about issues that affect that population in my district.
[Also], looking at the healthcare system, it'll be important to make sure that funding really supports our hospitals. Every time I look up, Roseland Hospital is on the chopping block. When you hear community members talk about the hospital, it's an assetbut they don't even want to go to the hospital to get service. We have to fix that.
I know Windy City Times caters to the LGBTQ population and, in that vein, we need to make sure medical professionals have the tools and the training to interface and interact with trans youth and LGBTQ people.
In addition, the county board recently passed an $8-billion budgetand I have to wonder how much of that is going to the 5th District. Residents can expect me to be a true advocate for them about [bringing] revenue to the area in an equitable manner. I don't want them to get the short end of the stick.
Beyond that, there are wages. We're talking about a minimum wage of $15/hour but, frankly, we need to be talking about more than that. We need to create diverse pathways for revenue.
Also, there are public safety and criminal-system reform, right? Having a voice that has been on both sides of the systemas I have, as a law studentis important. I've worked in my law school's criminal-defense clinic to advocate on behalf of my clients, and in my law firm, I'm doing plaintiff work for consumers. And there's the weight of being a Black man and interfacing with the criminal legal system, right? My mom and I have been pulled over simply just jamming to tunes; that adds a new layer to making decisions on the county level. I absolutely want to have safe neighborhoods but, with that, I don't think we should punish our way to public safety.
Now is the time to elect people who are going to reimagine what public safety and the criminal legal system are going to look like. Accountability is important, but we also need to invest in initiatives that really get to the root causes of why people commit some of these crimes in the first place; for example, people need access to mental-health services.
Quickly, there are two other areas. One is climate change. Cook County has jurisdiction over forest preserves; we need to think about how we use the space. And corruption needs to be tackled. Every time I look at the headlines, Chicago is in the news for corruption. There are a lot of things that can be done on the county level to curb corruption and bring in good government practices. It's not lost on me that the current incumbent is leaving after 28 yearsmy entire lifewith a credible retaliation claim against her.
It's time for a leader with a fresh face and new perspectives.
WCT: There's been a lot of criticism leveled at Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx. How do you think she's doing?
JM: I would say State's Attorney Foxx is doing a good job, but that's a tough job. I'm not going to shy away from the fact that I supported her recent election. The voters have choices, right? They knew exactly what they were getting because she talked about all the things she wanted to do. With that, her job is very challenging and you're not going to solve everything overnight. In a system that's so complex, a lot of things come at you all at once.
As a Cook County commissioner, I certainly look forward to being a partner to promoting accountability and justice in a system where we may disagree.
WCT: These past couple years have involved a pandemic for all and a racial awakening for some. There's been a lot of time for self-reflection. What have you learned about yourself these past two years?
JM: It's interesting that you mention this racial point. I've been Black my entire life; obviously, that's not going to change. The racial [aspect] has never fazed me; I'm excited with respect to truth and reconciliation. As long as Black people were held in bondage and mutilated throughout history, the longer we avoid [confronting] those things, the longer we're going to be in this cycle that we're in. Right now, there's a real opportunity to address those things, in my private life and as a public servant.
I've always had something to say, but I've always been timid about how I say it. These last two years have given me a platform and a voice to speak about who I am and the challenges our city, county, state and country are facing.
I'm excited to be the graduation speaker at my elementary school this year. I've been asked before but I always [declined] because I didn't know what to say to people. Now, I've challenged myself and I know I have a lot to say.
Jaylin McClinton's campaign website is www.jaylindmcclinton.com/