Palos Township Trustee Sharon Brannigan has stepped down from her position on the Cook County Commission on Women’s Issues following a call for her resignation by County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, leaving the larger issue of her position on the Palos Township Board still simmering with community activists.
“We’re claiming this as a victory and a step in the right direction,” said Bassem Kawar, advocacy specialist with the National Network for Arab American Communities. “We’re going to continue to organize until she resigns as a Palos Township trustee.”
Brannigan has been under fire for comments she posted on social media that many people inside and outside the community have found offensive. In now-deleted statements on Facebook, Brannigan questioned why Palos-area schools are “filling with Middle Eastern students without proper documentation.”
She also claimed that area Muslims fail to integrate into the community.
“Everywhere you turn, from Orland Park to Bridgeview, those numbers are increasing in leaps and bounds,” she wrote. “We are allowing these people whether they have peaceful intentions or not into our country without question.”
Following widespread discovery and circulation of the comments, a crowd of more than 100 people showed up at Palos Township headquarters for a scheduled meeting on July 10 in which at least a dozen attendees spoke of their dissatisfaction with Brannigan. Many of those who spoke inside the meeting and outside the building demanded her resignation. Less than half the crowd was allowed into the meeting room due to seating limitations.
When Brannigan’s online postings came to the attention of Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, she issued a statement for Brannigan to resign from the Commission on Women’s Issues, an organization whose mission is to advance the status of women and girls in Cook County. The focus of the commission is domestic violence, childcare, economic inequity and health issues, according to the county’s website. Brannigan has served on the commission since May of 2016. She was an appointee of Cook County Commissioner Sean Morrison (R-17th).
Pressure from the community, along with Preckwinkle’s call for Brannigan to step down, resulted in the trustee’s decision to resign, said Kawar.
“We truly believe it was a combination of both,” he said, citing a coalition of organizations including the Campaign to TAKE ON HATE, Arab American Action Network (AAAN), Arab American Family Services (AAFS), AmVote PAC, Arab American Democratic Club, Kiswani Law P.C., Law Offices of Reem Odeh and MPower Change.
Brannigan has so far refused to resign from her elected position on the Palos Township board. She told The Reporter in a brief phone call on July 18 “My position is the same. Nothing has changed.” A call to the trustee for additional comment was not retuned in time for this edition.
“It’s important to know that even though it’s an elected position, Sharon Brannigan ran unopposed,” said Kawar. “It’s clear that Palos Township doesn’t stand for such rhetoric. Palos Township values the diversity of the township. They value their neighbors and they truly don’t stand for what Brannigan stands for.”
Palos Township government provides a variety of services to all or parts of Bridgeview, Hickory Hills, Orland Park, Palos Heights, Palos Hills, Palos Park, Willow Springs and Worth.
Adding intrigue to the trustee’s departure from the Commission on Women’s Issues is a published report that she had already resigned from the position prior to widespread notice of her Facebook comments, the heated July 10 meeting and Preckwinkle’s call for her to leave.
Brannigan reportedly had decided to leave her post on the commission because it was conflicting with her small business and she could not give the organization the proper attention.
Also reported was a claim by Morrison that Preckwinkle was politically sniping with her demand for Brannigan to leave when the trustee had already put into motion her own departure.
“Well, we can expect that position of him,” said Kawar about Morrison. “Sharon is his appointee on the Commission for Women’s Issues and obviously he had no comment about the (controversial) comments she made. He said she’s just going to have to live with her comments.”
Kawar said a petition has been launched that has garnered almost 500 signatures to date. Coalition members have already visited elected officials in some of the seven communities located in Palos Township. Speaking to The Reporter by phone in his car, Kawar was unable to provide the names of the four communities but said “There’s a lot of support for our cause. Our local mayors are supporting us and supporting our demand, publically calling for her resignation.”
Kawar said coalition members and local residents will be gearing up for the next Palos Township meeting on Aug. 14.
“More allies will be there,” he said. “It’s going to be a big meeting.”