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Todd Stroger to run for county board prez

Thursday, June 29, 2006
Chicago Defender
by Mema Ayi

Ending months of speculation about his father’s health and political future, Ald. Todd Stroger (8th) Wednesday announced he will seek the support of the county’s 80 Democratic
Ald. Todd Stroger (8th) announced Wednesday he plans to run for Cook County Board President. His father, President John Stroger, who is recovering from a serious stroke he suffered more than three months ago, asked his son to replace him on the November ballot, Stroger said. Defender/Mema Ayi
committeemen to replace his father on the November ballot.
Stroger announced his plans during Wednesday’s regular City Council meeting following months of silence from the Stroger family on his father’s condition.
Cook County Board President John Stroger (D-4th) suffered a serious stroke a week before the March 21 primary election and has not been seen nor heard from since, leaving county commissioners – especially Republican challenger Tony Peraica – wondering if the president was fit to serve.
Despite his illness, Stroger, 77, narrowly won the Democratic nomination over Commissioner Forrest Claypool (D-12th).
His family, mainly through the younger Stroger, has said it would make a decision in July regarding the president’s plans to return to his seat.
Todd Stroger, who initially ducked reporters at Wednesday’s City Council meeting by entering through the chambers’ public entrance about an hour after the meeting started, said the family plans to announce the elder Stroger’s plans at a news conference on Friday.
“I’m hoping I will be able to run for the office and I will be asking for support for committeemen and I will campaign like any other candidate,” Stroger said at a news conference Wednesday afternoon.
A former state legislator and 8th Ward alderman for five years, Stroger said he has the experience to take his father’s place at the county board.
“I learned a lot by watching him,” Stroger said.
One possible succession scenario places the younger Stroger in the president’s seat, but turns over his commissioner’s seat to Ald. William Beavers (7th).
Beavers said he has no desire to serve as county board president and is too old for the campaigning it would take to get on the November ballot and win the seat over Peraica.
Without a commissioner’s seat, Todd Stroger would have no vote, except for in an event of a tie on the 17-member board.
Stroger would not resign from his seat, but rather would remain in office until his term ends in December.
Peraica called Wednesday’s events “a remarkable development.”
“Ultimately the voters will decide, but this is going to be interesting,” Peraica told the Defender. “Maybe he’ll learn something on his way through osmosis, but this is a huge task and I would venture to say that he is not properly prepared for such an awesome task.”
Beavers insisted no deals were made to create the scenario, which would also place his daughter and chief of staff, Darcell Beavers in his seat with Mayor Richard M. Daley’s approval. It is unclear who would take Todd Stroger’s place as 8th ward alderman, but Stroger said it will be someone who knows city government and who the people can trust.
“I don’t care what you heard, there is no deal,” Beavers told reporters Wednesday. “Everybody wants to make it look like a deal. It’s not right when Black folks do it, but when white folks do it, it’s OK. When we do it, it shows unity among Black folks and white folks don’t like that.”
Since the elder Stroger fell ill, many other elected officials have said they would take his seat if he were unable to serve, including Cong. Danny Davis (D-7th), State Senate President Emil Jones Jr. (D-14th) and Commissioner Bobbie Steele (D-2nd).
Steele told the Defender Wednesday that she planned to “stay the course,” but would make no new plans until she heard from President Stroger directly.
Nothing had been definitively decided Wednesday, Beavers said, though he did confirm he was working to get the younger Stroger slated by Democratic committeemen.
Thornton Township Democratic Committeeman Frank M. Zuccarelli, with the heaviest weighted vote of the 80 Cook County committeemen, said he will strongly consider Ald. Stroger as board president.
“If it’s Todd and Beavers, I don’t think I’ll have any problem supporting that,” Zuccarelli said. “While the jury is still out on whether he can do the job as well as his dad, Todd certainly deserves every opportunity.”
John Stroger, he added, has earned the right to select the nominee who should replace him on the ballot.
“Let’s give (John Stroger’s) choice a chance. Loyalty means something. So I would be surprised if a majority of the committemen did not support this,” Zuccarelli said.
Daley said he had not decided whether to support Todd Stroger or not, but said he planned to speak to the alderman.
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The alderman’s move into a campaign for Cook County Board president is not nepotism, the mayor added, because he has to run for the office.
The elder Stroger told Beavers on Sunday that he is still the county board president, but also spoke about his son replacing him on the ballot, Beavers said.
Todd Stroger said his father is still in rehabilitation and in good spirits, but the recovering process is made more difficult by his age and diabetes.
Though some have questioned the younger Stroger’s ability to lead the county and its $3 billion budget, he seems to have the support of his city council colleagues.
“He’s not being appointed, he’s still running for election,” said Ald. Freddrenna Lyle (6th).
Ald. Ed Smith (28th), chairman of the council’s Black Caucus, said he expects Stroger will grow into the job.
“I think he can do the job with all of our support instead of us trying to pull him apart,” Smith said.
Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. (27th), a longtime friend of the younger Stroger compared the “unassuming” alderman to the biblical David facing a mighty Goliath.
“I think a lot of people are sleeping on Todd and I think he will surprise a lot of people,” Burnett said. “He’s spirited and he knows policy. His dad didn’t put him on a pedestal, but he learned a lot from being in the shadow of his dad.”
Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) said he wanted to speak to Todd Stroger before he pledged full support.
“(John Stroger) was elected by a majority of the vote and we should allow someone he chose to continue his vision for the county,” Beale said. “The party owes this to Stroger.”
Commissioner Mike Quigley (D-10th), a former John Stroger opponent and Claypool supporter, joked Wednesday that the younger Stroger’s run will save taxpayers money on signs and stationery, but said the law regarding succession of the county board president needs to change.
“It smacks of arrogance,” Quigley said.
Quigley also called it “horrendous” that the Stroger family would allow John Stroger to finish his term if he is infirm.
“We owe it to his legacy not to do that,” Quigley said.
The challenge for the Democratic Party, he added, will be to make any potential candidate campaign for the job.
“(Todd Stroger) must do that or he will lose,” Quigley said.
But until the law changes, the county does need a candidate for board president to move forward.
Commissioner Larry Suffredin (D-13th) agreed, adding he will support the candidate chosen by the Democratic Central Committee.
“I hope for the sake of Todd Stroger there is transparency and open meetings as there is with any other slating process,” Suffredin said.
Though he supported Claypool in the primary, Suffredin said he will support Ald. Stroger if he is the party’s candidate. Peraica may prove difficult to beat, but he suggested that as a candidate, the younger Stroger make himself as visible as the Republican.
“Tony has a very engaging personality,” Suffredin said. “I really believe this will be closer than people think. It will not look like a hand-off from father to son. This is not like taking a 19-year-old kid making him a building inspector.”

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