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County faces hard choices
Stroger's departure may open window of opportunity

Sunday, July 02, 2006
Chicago Tribune
by Mickey Ciokajlo

For the first time in more than three decades--almost exactly the amount of time Cook County Board President John Stroger served as a commissioner--the board finds itself trying to pick a new leader midstream.

Some see that as an opportunity to make hard choices that the board has steered around in recent years.

Stroger's announcement Friday that he plans to retire means the board must select a replacement to fill the remainder of his term.

Democratic Party leaders must decide who they will pick to replace Stroger on the Nov. 7 ballot.

Stroger, 77, was nominated in March to seek a fourth term as president, despite suffering a stroke one week before the election.

Stroger is the board's longest-serving member, having been elected for the first time in 1970.

By the end of the year, the 17-member body will lose its second-most tenured member, 32-year veteran Republican Carl Hansen, who lost in the March primary election.

With Chicago Ald. Todd Stroger (8th) hoping to run for his father's County Board seat in the November election, some Democrats see the interim period as a time to make difficult choices that will not harm the political future of the presumptive candidate.

For example, John Stroger had not increased the property tax for the county government since 2000, but he increased various fees and taxes and tried to boost others.

With the county facing various fiscal straits, an interim president could increase raise the property tax, taking the brunt of the criticism but leaving the nominee without that baggage.

Critics also have said county government needs to be streamlined and managed better.

The interim period could provide an opportunity for the board to make tough choices to cut unneeded bureaucracy, which could be unpopular with political power brokers but wouldn't necessarily be blamed on the nominee.

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