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Chicago City Council honors late Cook County Clerk Karen Yarbrough

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CHICAGO (CBS) -- The Chicago City Council on Wednesday paid tribute to the late Cook County Clerk Karen Yarbrough, with aldermen describing her as "a giant of our community."

Yarbrough, 73, died on April 7 from an undisclosed illness.

Yarbrough was a trailblazer. In 2018, she was elected as the first woman and the first Black person to serve as Cook County Clerk, overseeing elections in suburban Cook County and maintaining the county's vital records, such as birth, marriage, civil union, and death certificates. She was reelected in 2022.

Her career in public service spanned decades. 

Before becoming Cook County Clerk, Yarbrough served in the Illinois House from 2001 until 2012, representing parts of the western suburbs. She also served as Cook County Recorder of Deeds from December 2012 until 2018. The Recorder's office later merged with the County Clerk's office in 2020.

Several aldermen said Yarbrough described Yarbrough as a kind and loving mentor.

"She has always been a person with integrity. She joked around a lot, but she was serious. She was really, really serious about the changes that she wanted to make, not only in her community, but the entire county and the state," said Ald. Derrick Curtis (18th).

"She could teach you how to hug a porcupine, and still love every minute of it, and that is a rarity in politics. It's a rarity in leadership for someone to be able to be welcoming to all without being divisive, even when you disagree," said Ald. Raymond Lopez (15th).

Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd) said she didn't know Yarbrough for very long, but came to look up to her after the two served together on the executive committee of the Cook County Democratic Party, saying, "I really didn't know what I was doing."

"She was kind and thoughtful, strong and assertive, and I appreciated that about her. I admired that about her," Dowell said.

Ald. Mike Rodriguez (22nd) called Yarbrough "a giant of our community."

"Our society, our county, is so much better off for having our clerk, Karen Yarbrough, serve our community for such a long time," he said.

Ald. Jason Ervin (28th) choked back tears as he recalled his 25-year friendship with Yarbrough, saying he had "no idea" what impact she would have on his life when they first met.

"Karen was like a mother to me. She hugged us when we needed to be hugged. She chastised us when we needed that, too," he said.

Mayor Brandon Johnson hailed Yarbrough as a champion for progressive causes such as fair housing, accessible health care, and social justice.

"The beauty of her leadership, it's not just defined by how long her legacy will last, because it will last forever. The beauty of Karen is that her love endures," he said.

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