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Stroger's son appears to be ready to step up
Bid to replace dad gains steam

Thursday, June 29, 2006
Chicago Tribune
by Mickey Ciokajlo

Tribune staff reporters Gary Washburn and Rick Pearson contributed to this report

Chicago Ald. Todd Stroger laid claim to his father's job as Cook County Board president on Wednesday as a solid base of Democratic Party leaders appeared to support his bid to replace the ailing John Stroger.

But Cook County commissioners reacted negatively to Todd Stroger's message that his father plans to finish his current term, which expires in December.

Todd Stroger, 43, alderman of the family's 8th Ward power base on the South Side, said his father would submit a letter on Thursday to Cook County Democratic Party Chairman Tom Lyons stating that he is removing his name from the ballot in the Nov. 7 election.

John Stroger, 77, had a serious stroke on March 14, one week before the Democratic primary in which he was nominated to seek a fourth term as board president. Commissioner Tony Peraica of Riverside is the Republican challenger.

At an impromptu news conference in City Hall, Todd Stroger said he plans to make a formal announcement Friday, which would include a "letter from the president to the constituents telling why he has to resign ... and the nature of his condition."

John Stroger has not returned to work since his stroke, nor has he made any public appearances or statements. His chief of staff, James Whigham, says that he meets periodically with Stroger and that Stroger remains in charge of the government.

When asked if his father was in good enough shape to finish his term when he's not well enough to run in the election, Todd Stroger said: "I don't know the answer to that question. I think that if he thinks he can finish his term, then so be it."

Commissioner Gregg Goslin, a Republican who has enjoyed a good relationship with John Stroger, said it would be irresponsible for the County Board president to hold on to his seat if he was not well enough to conduct county business.

Commissioner Larry Suffredin (D-Evanston) said he believes he could get a unanimous vote at the board's July 12 meeting for a proposal that would allow Stroger to temporarily transfer his powers.

Suffredin predicted a voter backlash against Todd Stroger in November if his father attempted to hang on to power in absentia.

"We cannot, for five months, be without a chief executive officer," Suffredin said. "The issue of his failure to be actively running the county would be an issue that Todd would be blamed for in the campaign. It would be unfair to Todd, but I think it would happen."

After John Stroger's letter is submitted, county Democratic Party leaders will meet publicly to vote for his replacement. The party's 50 ward committeemen and 30 township committeemen would each cast votes that are weighted depending on the number of Democratic votes cast in their ward or township in the March primary. The date of that meeting has not been announced.

Chicago Ald. William Beavers (7th), a veteran South Side political power broker who has been making calls on Todd Stroger's behalf, told reporters "there's enough votes" for Todd Stroger to succeed his father. But when asked if he had the votes already lined up for Todd Stroger, Beavers said, "We're working on that right now, OK?"

The County Board president controls a $3 billion budget and half of the government's 26,000 jobs, important political currency in local politics. Some observers consider it the third-most powerful position in Illinois politics after mayor of Chicago and governor.

A number of African-American committeemen who control some wards with the largest Democratic blocs expressed support Wednesday for Todd Stroger.

In addition, Thornton Township Democratic Committeeman Frank Zuccarelli, also a county worker employed by a Stroger ally, praised Todd Stroger as a "fine young man" who "works hard."

"I respect John Stroger enough that if that's his recommendation I would strongly consider it," said Zuccarelli, who holds the single largest weighed vote among committeemen.

Beavers said Chicago's 19th Ward on the Southwest Side was "on board," although its Democratic committeeman, Matthew O'Shea, couldn't be reached for comment.

Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, who is not a committeeman, praised Todd Stroger but stopped short of endorsing him, saying he had just learned the news Wednesday morning. John Daley, the mayor's brother and Democratic committeeman of the 11th Ward, said he would support Todd Stroger.

Most white committeemen agree that a Stroger replacement on the ballot should be an African-American, but they want to make sure there is a consensus choice that emerges from the black committeemen before they endorse the program, said a leading white Democrat.

Committing too early, the Democrat said, could mean supporting a losing contender, which could backfire politically when seeking future help.

U.S. Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.), who has expressed interest in the job if Stroger retires, said it appears that Todd Stroger has the votes to get slated.

County Commissioner Bobbie Steele (D-Chicago) said she still believes she's the most qualified candidate for the job.

Davis and Steele are both from the West Side, which in terms of weighted vote does not hold anywhere near the power of the South Side wards.

"Politics isn't always about who's going to do the better job," Davis said. "It's about, sometimes, who has the power to decide."

Beavers cited past precedent for John Stroger to pick his son, saying Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan and former Cook County Assessor Thomas Hynes aided their children's political careers.

"It's not right when black folks do it but when white folks do it, it's all right," Beavers said. "Hynes, Madigan ... all the rest of them did it. Why can't we do it? That shows unity among black folks which white folks don't like."

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