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Stroger resigns; Steele, Davis challenge Todd Stroger’s bid for dad’s seat

Monday, July 03, 2006
Chicago Defender
by Mema Ayi

Though his father’s resignation is now official, it’s not smooth sailing for Ald. Todd Stroger (8th) , who last week announced he was seeking to replace his father as the Democratic nominee for Cook County board president.

Both former county commissioner, now Cong. Danny Davis (D-7th) and Commissioner Bobbie Steele (D-2nd) are interested in taking the elder Stroger’s position on the ballot.

In a written resignation letter released Friday, President John H. Stroger (D-4th), withdrew his candidacy for re-election and resigned his position effective July 31.

Stroger, 77, has not been seen publicly since he suffered a stroke a week before the primary election. Despite his condition and inability to campaign in the days before the election, Stroger was able to defeat Democratic challenger Forrest Claypool (D-12th).

Stroger’s resignation means the county board will have to select a commissioner to serve the remainder of the president’s term. Eighty Cook County committeemen will decide who will replace the long-serving Democrat on the ballot in November.

Steele (D-2nd), who has already made it known that she hopes to be selected interim president, but told the Defender Sunday the decision is up to the board. It was not clear Sunday whether the board would call a special meeting before its July 12 meeting to name a leader to complete the elder Stroger’s term.

At last month’s meeting, two of three proposals to replace Stroger temporarily or permanently were sent to committee. The third proposal, a call for competency hearings submitted by Republican challenger Tony Peraica (R-16th), was voted down.

But Davis told the Defender he is concerned about Steele’s chances of winning in November if she is not chosen as the interim president.

“I don’t know who has the best chance of winning this, but if the Cook County Democratic Party puts its best foot forward, Mr. Peraica will be vanquished – or at the very least, seriously defeated,” Davis said. “If the party does something people disagree with, (Democrats will) have a big challenge come November. But I have faith the party will do the right thing because it will expect the people to do the right thing in November.”

Claypool told reporters Friday he is less concerned about an interim president than he is about who will serve as county president for the next four years.

“The ward bosses will make the selection and the evidence is mounting that the ward bosses knew what was going on. Voters and taxpayers deserve better,” Claypool said. “They have treated the leadership of this county as if it is a family heirloom to be passed down from one generation to another, but this is not the time for on-the-job-training.”

Claypool accused the president’s family and “ward bosses” of manipulating the process and prolonging an announcement about the elder Stroger’s plans in order to secure his son a place on the ballot.

Ald. Stroger’s announcement to replace his father on the ballot came about a week after the deadline for independent candidates to submit nominating signatures.

“They knew Todd Stroger would not be able to win against an independent candidate. The last thing the ward bosses want is an independent candidate. They want to keep the jobs and the contracts,” Claypool said. “The Democratic Party is making it very difficult to independent Democrats to support the party. Ward bosses ought to be careful about how far they can push the public.”

Friday, Peraica speculated the Stroger’s plan to get a majority of county Democratic leaders to support Ald. Stroger on the ballot was not working out according to plan.

“Have you had enough yet? I think the voters have had enough,” Peraica said. “Once again politics trumps government. All the Stroger administration is worried about is the succession process.”

Steele said expects Cook County voters to let their wishes known to their committeemen.

“All I can ask for is an opportunity to go before the Democratic Party. But I know that I am, by far, the best person for that position,” Steele told the Defender. “But this government belongs to the people. I believe in participatory government and a process that is open and fair. I want the people to be involved in the process and let their committeemen know how they want them to vote.”

Davis said that as a former county commissioner, he is more qualified to serve than Ald. Stroger.

“How could Todd Stroger, who’s never been on the county board know as much as I do? Or Ald. Beavers? Now they could be rocket scientists, but they still don’t have any experience on the county board.” Davis said. “The county board does not belong to (John Stroger’s) son. It belongs to the people.”

He suggested committeemen hold town hall meetings or polls to determine which way their constituents would vote.

“This is democracy at its very best if the committeemen listen to what the people are saying. What (committeemen) have to do is make sure they are where their constituents are,” Davis said.

The congressman also said he can also generate the kind of enthusiasm necessary to bring Democrats to the polls in November, he said.

Steele agreed that Davis can galvanize people, but she serve as a better candidate because she is already on the board.

“I’m already ahead of the curve on years of service. Danny’s been away for 10 years,” Steele said.

With the presidency now officially up for grabs, Davis said he hopes the committeemen will come to a decision quickly.

“Give people enough time to know there is a vacancy, then go ahead and make a decision. Don’t drag it out into a long, protracted thing when it’s unnecessary,” Davis said. “Let the healing process take place, but don’t make the Democratic Party of Cook County the laughing stock of the nation.”

Longtime allies Davis and Steele are not worried about facing off against one another, but hope to bring the voters of Cook County into the process, though committeemen will officially choose the nominee.

“When the dust settles, there’s going to be a level of unity around this situation,” Davis said.

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