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Board gives Stroger until July to decide

Wednesday, June 21, 2006
Chicago Tribune
by Mickey Ciokajlo

ribune staff reporter Gary Washburn contributed to this report

Cook County commissioners on Tuesday declined to take any steps toward replacing ailing board President John Stroger and urged him to stick to the July deadline his family laid out for a decision about his future.

Commissioner Bobbie Steele (D-Chicago), who previously had urged Stroger to make a decision before July, changed gears and urged the board to give him time.

"I would recommend that all of these amendments go away until after we've heard from the Stroger family. July is just around the corner," said Steele, who has presented herself as a potential interim replacement. "We've waited this long, what's the urgency? The sky is not falling."

Chicago Ald. Todd Stroger (8th), Stroger's son, has said a decision about his father's future would be made in July, though he has not specified a date.

Stroger, 77, had a serious stroke March 14, one week before the Democratic primary in which he was nominated to seek a fourth term. Stroger has not made a public appearance since then.

Pressed by reporters Tuesday, Todd Stroger said his father has been released from a hospital, where he was taken June 8 after suffering complications from the stroke.

However, he declined to say whether his father was taken to the condo where he was recently living, back to rehabilitation or somewhere else.

"I think you can write a pretty good story just by me telling you that," he said. "That is all I've got is he is out of the hospital. ... That's all I can tell you."

Stroger's chief of staff, James Whigham, reiterated to reporters after the County Board meeting that Stroger remains in charge of the government. Whigham said he last visited Stroger June 7, before he was rehospitalized; Whigham said he had not needed to see Stroger since then.

During the meeting, commissioners referred to committee two of the three proposals dealing with Stroger's absence. Commissioner Larry Suffredin (D-Evanston), who proposed an ordinance that would allow Stroger to temporarily transfer his power, said he would seek a vote on his measure at the board's next meeting on July 12 if Stroger has not made an announcement.

Also sent to committee was a proposal submitted by Commissioner Earlean Collins (D-Chicago) to amend the board's rules to expand the powers of the president pro tem.

Commissioners killed decisively a measure by Commissioner Tony Peraica (R-Riverside), Stroger's opponent in the November election, to hold a fitness hearing into the president's ability to perform his official duties.

Peraica received only one vote, his own. His four fellow Republicans voted "present," and 10 Democrats voted "no." Commissioner Joan Murphy (D-Crestwood) was absent.

In debating Peraica's proposal, some commissioners urged Stroger and his family to make a decision in July. The commissioners said that out of respect for Stroger and his 36 years of service on the board, they would allow him to have the timetable previously set by his family.

Adding intrigue to the discussion was a legal opinion issued Monday by Cook County State's Atty. Richard Devine's office that said the board had the authority to remove Stroger by declaring his seat vacant, if it chose to go that route.

"The Stroger family has indicated that, I believe it's July, the beginning of July, they will give us an answer. I think we should try to honor them," said Commissioner John Daley (D-Chicago), who has said he would consider an interim appointment as president. "With this letter from the state's attorney, I would urge by July that the Stroger family would come up with an answer to this board and to the people of this county."

Commissioner Roberto Maldonado (D-Chicago) said Stroger should be given the latitude to make his decision in July.

"If we don't hear from the family by July, then I'm going to feel as a member of this board that I'm being played with by the Stroger family," Maldonado said.



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