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Board rejects Stroger test
Alderman says president is still running county

Wednesday, June 07, 2006
Chicago Tribune
by Mickey Ciokajlo

The Cook County Board on Tuesday strongly rejected a proposal to hold a fitness hearing for Board President John Stroger, who missed a sixth consecutive meeting since suffering a serious stroke.

The move came as an influential Democratic leader met with Stroger, who hasn't made a public appearance in 12 weeks, and told reporters that Stroger is still running the government.

"One thing that he still realizes is that he's the president of the County Board," said Ald. William Beavers (7th), who saw Stroger on Monday and Tuesday. "He's clear about that."

Beavers, whose name has surfaced as a possible successor to Stroger, said the two longtime political allies did not discuss Stroger's future or replacement candidates. But Beavers said they will meet regularly, and he expects a decision "very shortly."

"He said, `Beavers, we'll talk. ... I'll get back to you when we need to talk,'" Beavers said.

Beavers, 71, is a ranking member of the Cook County Democratic Central Committee and one of the city's most influential African-American aldermen.

His move was seen as an attempt to reduce the growing pressure on relatives and aides to better explain the 77-year-old Stroger's condition and ability to govern. It also illustrated Beavers' influence within the very tight circle that has surrounded the County Board president since his stroke March 14, one week before he won renomination for a fourth term.

Beavers said he would speak for Stroger when there is an announcement to be made about his future.

Ald. Todd Stroger (8th), who has acted as the spokesman for his ailing father, could not be reached for comment Tuesday. He has said his father would speak for himself when he is ready to make a statement and indicated there might be no word until July.

While many Democratic and Republican politicians have become increasingly restless about the uncertainty over Stroger's future, county commissioners attacked the first formal proposal at a board meeting to address the situation.

The resolution, introduced by Tony Peraica (R-Riverside), Stroger's opponent in the Nov. 7 election, called for a hearing within 10 days to gather evidence about Stroger's fitness to serve as president.

On a 10-5 vote, the board refused to send Peraica's proposal to committee for discussion. The board's other four Republicans sided with Peraica, saying past practice has been to allow issues to be sent to committee to die.

John Daley (D-Chicago), a close political ally of Stroger, said Peraica's proposal was a "damn disgrace."

Elizabeth Gorman (R-Orland Park) said the proposal would "get buried either way."

Peraica said his candidacy for Stroger's job was unrelated to the proposal.

"I take no pleasure in doing this. I really don't, regardless of what other people may think and roll their eyes here," Peraica told commissioners. "I would ask President Stroger and I would ask his team to take down this wall of silence."

Some commissioners who disagreed with Peraica's proposal said the issue of how the government functions in the president's absence remains a serious issue.

Larry Suffredin (D-Evanston) said he would introduce an ordinance at the June 20 board meeting styled after the 25th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which creates a framework for the temporary transfer of power.

The Tribune reported last week that his condition is more fragile than his family or county officials have been acknowledging.

But James Whigham, Stroger's chief of staff, said he met with Stroger for two hours on Friday, and they discussed county business, including ongoing union negotiations and personnel vacancies.

Asked if Stroger was aware of the controversy his absence is creating, Whigham said: "I don't know. I would say this: I know he gives me orders, and I follow those orders. He gives me his take on issues, and I use that information to carry out my duties."

As for Stroger's mental awareness, Whigham said Stroger always recognizes him, and they've been able to "engage in conversation. To include times of humor, jokes, levity, as well as serious discussion."

Beavers said Stroger is eating solid food and was asking for strawberries when Beavers was visiting Monday.

Asked why the press couldn't see Stroger, Beavers said, "Maybe he don't want to see you, OK? That's simple enough."

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