CITY HALL — Bringing an end to one of the longest political careers in Chicago history, Cook County Clerk David Orr announced Wednesday he would not run for re-election.
Orr, 72, whose place in Chicago political history was secured by the eight days he spent as Chicago's mayor after Harold Washington's death in 1987, said he could not promise county residents that he would be able to serve until 2022.
"It's time," said Orr, who also served as 49th Ward alderman on Chicago's Far North Side. "That's what my gut is telling me."
Set to leave public office in December 2018, Orr's 39-year career in public service will include 28 years as Cook County clerk, where he oversaw elections and vital records while being a thorn in the side of politicians like former Mayor Richard M. Daley.
As Orr announced that he would end his political career, he again decried the "machine-style politics" he spent his time in office fighting — and vowed to continue to oppose.
"I can't stand the corruption and inefficiency we see too much of," Orr said.
Saying he decided not to run again in just the last few days, Orr said his biggest regret was that too many Chicagoans do not believe better government is possible and believe it is fruitless to oppose the "down and dirty" politics.
"Activism makes a world of difference," Orr said. "Get out there and raise hell. Don't give up. Don't give into cynicism."
Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said in a statement she was surprised by Orr's decision.
"[Orr] has been a voice for progressive politics, accountability and transparency in government," Preckwinkle said. "I thank him for his service and wish him well in his future endeavors."
Mayor Rahm Emanuel said in a statement Orr's career left an "indelible mark" on the city and county.
"I am confident that the sense of passion and purpose that were the hallmarks of his public life will continue to guide him in his well-earned retirement, and I join generations of Chicagoans in expressing my gratitude to Clerk Orr for his service and wishing him the best in this next chapter of his remarkable life,” Emanuel said.
Orr's announcement came a day before candidates planning to run in the November 2018 election are set to appear before Democratic Party officials in a bid to garner their endorsements.
Cook County Recorder of Deeds Karen Yarborough told the Tribune last week that she planned to run for Cook County clerk. Her office was eliminated by voters in November in an effort championed by Orr to save money. The clerk will take over the duties of the recorder of deeds.
Orr, who called Yarborough "a friend," declined to endorse her bid for the office he held for seven terms. He said he believes he would have been re-elected, had he chosen to run.
Anyone he endorses for Cook County clerk would have to believe in transparency, Orr said.
"And doesn't kow tow to the rich and powerful," Orr said.
Called the system that requires candidates to decide in June 2017 whether to run for office in November 2018 a "crazy system."
"It is truly an abomination," Orr said.
"I believe very much in the work," Orr said, telling reporters gathered on Daley Plaza in the shadow of the Picasso statue. "It has been a great time."
Orr said that while he was leaving public office, he would not stop working, and he is planning to continue his work as a senior fellow at the University of Chicago. He will not hesitate to "speak out" about what he said was the need for "progressive, transparent government" in Cook County and Chicago at a time when "Democracy is under assault" under an authoritarian president determined to suppress voting rights.
Orr said he may write a book, noting that he has "a lot of stories to tell" about Chicago politics.