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Ailing Stroger calls it quits

Saturday, July 01, 2006
Chicago Sun-Times
by STEVE PATTERSON Staff Reporter

A political career that began 53 years ago came to an end Friday as Cook County Board President John Stroger announced he was stepping down from the board and removing himself from the November ticket.
That announcement immediately brought word from U.S. Rep. Danny Davis that he will "openly and publicly seek" the board presidency, while Cook County Commissioner Bobbie Steele also said she wants the vacant seat.
Davis' and Steele's aspirations throw a monkey wrench into Stroger's plan to hand off his seat to his son, Ald. Todd Stroger (8th). Now there promises to be a vicious battle for control of the $3 billion government.
In the 36 years John Stroger spent on the County Board, and 12 as board president, he:
•  Held the line on property taxes when presenting 11 budgets.
•  Presided over construction of a $623 million county hospital that bears his name.
•  Renovated an abandoned building into a new $51 million domestic violence courthouse.
•  Formed the CORE Center, one of the nation's first centers devoted to the study and treatment of HIV and AIDS.
•  Pushed through single-member districts, allowing for countywide representation on the board.
•  Appointed minorities to key county leadership positions in unprecedented numbers and introduced affirmative action legislation in county government.
•  Acquired and helped to reopen Provident Hospital.
Stroger's unsigned resignation letter was released at the end of the day, four hours after a news conference was abruptly canceled with no explanation.
"This is a personal decision that is being made because of my current physical limitations," said Stroger, who suffered a stroke more than three months ago, just before the Democratic primary. "I have the aptitude and mental abilities to make the sound decisions that I have made all of my life."
No mention of successor
The letter says Stroger will resign as the Democratic nominee for board president effective today and that he will resign both his commissioner's seat and board presidency effective July 31.
Those close to Stroger had said he would keep the board seat while giving up the presidency -- drawing criticism from board members who wondered how Stroger could be well enough to remain in office if he was too ill to remain on the ticket.
The letter makes no mention of who should succeed Stroger, though friends and allies have said a deal has been worked out for Todd Stroger to succeed him on the ballot for president and his close friend, Ald. William Beavers (7th), to run for his seat. In the meantime, board member and mayoral brother John Daley is expected to serve as interim president.
Todd Stroger, at an event in Niles Friday night, refused to talk about his dad's retirement, saying "the press release covered it."
The younger Stroger said he was exhausted from the events of the week, and was looking forward to getting some rest. "I'm just thinking about my family," he said.
His father's letter was issued hours after a scheduled press conference where Stroger's wife, Yonnie, was expected to join county leaders in announcing her husband's retirement from public office. Instead, what has been a bizarre saga from the start took another bizarre turn when county officials said the announcement was being postponed.
No explanation was officially given for the delay, which sparked speculation that Stroger didn't have the support of a majority of Democratic committeemen to install his son as his replacement.
But those familiar with the situation said Stroger does still have the necessary support and that Yonnie Stroger was simply reluctant to face a horde of media.
Still, critics took their shots at the abrupt cancellation.
"This has reached circus proportions," Steele said, calling Friday's developments "unprofessional" and "not in the best interests of the people of Cook County."
But Stroger spokeswoman Chinta Strausberg said "there's no need for a messenger" because the letter provides "a simple, clear and meaningful message exemplifying the dignity and honor ... [Stroger] has always brought to this office."
Letter thanks workers, backers
But Strausberg said even she didn't know why the statement was delayed, though she insisted Stroger is physically capable of signing it. Stroger hasn't been seen or heard from since suffering the stroke.
The shroud of secrecy prompted Republican presidential nominee Tony Peraica to compare the scenario to a communist state, saying it was clear Beavers and Todd Stroger were stumbling with a simple press conference and wondering how they'll run county government.
Beavers has been lining up support among committeemen to elect Todd Stroger as president, while most expect Beavers to assume Stroger's County Board seat.
In Davis' news release, issued late Friday, he praised Stroger's legacy but made it clear he's gunning for the presidency, whether Todd Stroger is pushed for it or not.
"I have sent a letter to each of the Democratic ward and township committeemen making them aware of my interest and of my intent," Davis said in the statement.
Stroger's letter is filled with thank-yous to county workers and political supporters who have stood by him through 36 years on the board and 12 years as president.
Of the stroke he suffered in March, he says "never before have I had a battle that has placed as many obstacles before me."
"But I can also say to you that those challenges have been met not just by me, but have been met with many of you because you have provided the foundation upon which I have stood. That foundation has been solid. It has enabled me to accept the fact that I have to reach within myself and garner the strength and courage to fight on."
Contributing: Lisa Donovan

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