A little of the shine has come off Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart since 2010, when he was running for a second term as sheriff and was expected to emerge as Rahm Emanuel's biggest obstacle to becoming mayor of Chicago.
Overcrowding at the Cook County jail remains an issue. Dart's relationship with the rank and file has deteriorated -- the Teamsters, representing the largest bloc of employees, won't endorse him in the Democratic primary and the county board recently settled a lawsuit with 21 deputies for $2.4 million (Dart objected strenuously to the settlement and wanted the case appealed).
But all that notwithstanding, Dart's eight-year tenure as sheriff taken as a whole remains admirable. He has supported county board President Toni Preckwinkle's effort to eliminate the bits and pieces of unincorporated land that make patrolling needlessly costly. He has opened lines of communication with Northwest suburban police departments. He is committed to addressing the mental health issues prevalent among many inmates.
Dart's leading primary opponent is William "Bill" Evans, a 22-year veteran of the sheriff's police who believes that having a seasoned law enforcement professional in charge would greatly improve morale, and says he would eliminate some of the department's "top-heavy" administrative positions to get more officers on the street and in the jail. Sylvester Baker, a retired deputy, would restructure the force into a countywide patrol division and countywide special investigations unit. The fourth primary candidate is Ted Palka, also a former deputy.
Four years ago, Dart surprised a lot of people when he declined to run for mayor. The sheriff's department has its issues, but Dart still is the best person to handle them.