Stephenson County Democratic Party Leader Resigns

Questions remain about who will take over as local Democratic leader.

Logo of the Stephenson County Democratic Party
Logo of the Stephenson County Democratic Party

The Stephenson County Democratic Party organization announced Thursday night that its party leader, Louise Roebuck Cook, is stepping down immediately. She is the fourth local Democrat to resign from a party leadership position in the last 11 days.

Her resignation was announced in a letter which was read aloud by interim party chair Renardo Weathersby at the party’s biweekly meeting Thursday night. 

In her statement, Cook said that she felt she no longer had the support to fulfill the duties of party chair. She will stay on as the Democratic committeeperson for Freeport’s 15th precinct. Cook did not respond to requests for comment on this story.

Following the announcement of Cook’s resignation, a dispute broke out over the rules of succession when a party leader resigns in the middle of their term. 

After Weathersby proposed that he should be moved into the position of party leader immediately, multiple committeepersons argued that the organization’s rules mandate the election of a party leader in 30-60 days. 

Carl Utt, the committeeperson for Freeport’s 14th precinct, said that it was “shameful” that leadership was not following the party bylaws, which are legally binding.

Ed Klein, a committeeperson for Harlem Township, addressed the meeting, saying “We have to step back from what you’ve done before because you’ve been doing it wrong.”

Weathersby told the meeting, “I’m trying to unite the party… I just want to move on.”

After several minutes of debate, a motion to hold an election at a later date for Louise Roebuck Cook’s replacement was passed unanimously by the committeepersons.

After the meeting, Utt told The Voice that he was “optimistic” but that there was lots of hard work to be done.

Cook began to face public and private pressure to resign in recent weeks. Last week, Utt wrote an editorial in this outlet asking for her resignation. Utt also told The Voice that he had called for leadership change in the party’s monthly meetings in May and June.

Cook is resigning with nearly two years left in her term as party leader in Stephenson County. In 2018, Cook told the Freeport Journal-Standard that she did not expect to run for re-election after completing her 2nd term; however, she was re-elected to her 3rd term this year. 

During public comments, multiple committeepersons thanked Cook for her work as party leader and for her years as a caseworker for the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services.

Cook was first elected party chair in 2016. Her LinkedIn page describes a long career of political activity. After graduating from Bradley University with a degree in political science and economics, she held leadership positions in the Stephenson County League of Women Voters, the Northwest Illinois Central Labor Body, and AFSCME Local 448.

Cook’s family is well-known in local politics and government. Her daughter, Melinda Cook, is currently an elected trustee for Freeport Township. Her husband, Frank Cook, worked for the county State’s Attorney’s office before resigning in 2015.

This leadership shake-up comes just 4 months before November’s general election. Local Democrats only slated two candidates to run in the fall. The move also comes as the Stephenson County Democrats have seen a wave of resignations in the past two weeks. The party secretary, the sergeant-at-arms, and a precinct committeeperson also resigned from their positions. 

Karl Bronn, who served as the 12th Precinct Committeeperson before resigning on June 22nd, told The Voice he has been “shocked at how the [Stephenson County Democratic Party] was being managed” for the last few years. Bronn said he felt that the organization had grown stagnant, re-using the same agenda at monthly meetings and rarely discussing the future of the organization. 

In a June 23rd email shown to The Voice, former Sergeant-at-Arms Richard Prien told an email chain of numerous county Democrats that he had resigned. The two-sentence email read: “Everybody relax, I just resigned. I am being blamed for things I never said.” When The Voice reached out to Prien to clarify why he resigned, Prien declined to comment. 

Former party secretary Anjanette Johnson also resigned on June 23rd, in the same email chain as Richard Prien. In her resignation, she wrote that she felt shut out from other members of the party’s executive board. She also said that the “lack of communication and the apparent disdain for working with me was palpable.” 

The party will be led by interim chair Renardo Weathersby until elections are held for the party chair. The election will take place in August. When asked if he intended to seek election for the party chair, Weathersby declined to comment.

Updated (7-3-2020): The Voice would like to clarify that Carl Utt, 14th Precinct Committeeperson, is a contributor to this platform. Utt had no editorial jurisdiction over the contents of this article.