Jerry Butler

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Jerry 'Iceman' Butler

b. December 8, 1939

Cook County, Commissioner (1986- )

Jerry "Iceman" Butler’s debut on the Chicago political scene came when many Democratic movers and shakers attempted to expand their influence on the Cook County Board. At the time, county districts did not elect commissioners. Chicago voters were instead allowed to vote for 10 commissioner and suburban voters were given 7 commissioners to elect. In 1986, this system became an advantage to some independents when an influx of more than 30 candidates competed for the 17 seats. The surge in candidates was attributed to a major blunder by Ald. Ed Vrdolyak, who was the chairman of the Cook County Democrats. When creating a party slate for the board race, Vrdolyak and other slatemakers ignored 5 incumbent board members and instead endorsed three fellow aldermen who were considered lame ducks, which outraged some committeemen and ward leaders.

With the party in disarray, different factions presented their own candidates in an attempt to expand their political power. Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan supported two independent candidates and some disgruntled committeemen rejected the party slate and backed their own candidates. Then-Cook County President George Dunne, who had a falling out with Vrdolyak, created a coalition of Democrats who wouldn't have to owe their elections to the party. Then-Chicago Mayor Harold Washington, who was caught in a bitter feud with Vrdolyak in the Council Wars, endorsed Dunne for re-election as well as two of Dunne's allies--John Stroger and Samual Vaughen, a protege of Ald. Wilson Frost. Washington and his allies also threw their support around Butler and a school teacher named Bobbie Steele. Through chance, Butler won the coveted top spot on the ballot, which was seen by election observers as a huge advantage. Butler eventually won the election.

On the county board, Butler allied himself with the powerful Stroger family. In 1994, Butler helped John Stroger become elected as board president against challengers that included Commissioner Maria Pappas and Circuit Court Clerk Aurelia Pucinski. Butler also supported the nomination of Todd Stroger (John's son) to become board president.

In 1994, Butler also made an successful run to become the Board's Finance Committee Chair, the second most powerful position in County government. Butler lost an election among commissioners to John Daley, who has since held the position.

Butler is also the chair of the Health and Hospitals Committee, which had been criticized for political hiring. In 2007, U.S. Illinois Senator Dick Durbin urged county commissioners to hand over control of the hospitals to an independent board. Butler expressed some skepticism of the idea but served on a special task force to study the plan. Butler would eventually be voted onto the independent board.

Butler made no announcement, but did not file to run for re-election in 2018, opening his seat for the first time in decades. He was known to be in ailing health for some time, and his attendance at committee meetings dwindled in 2016 and 2017.

Employment and Electoral History

Butler is widely considered an R&B icon. He received his nickname, "The Iceman," for his cool baritone voice while working with Curtis Mayfield. The two grew up together in Cabrini-Green and later formed the Impressions, which produced such hits as "For Your Precious Love." Butler went solo in 1959 and created such hits as "Only the Strong Survive" and "No Money Down," which was sampled by West Coast rapper The Game on his 2005 hit "Dream (The Game Song)." Butler also had the pleasure to work with Burt Bacharach.


Governors State University, B.S. Political Science, M.A. Criminal Justice

Important Political Events

  • 1986, Elected to Cook County Board