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County board in transition; Commissioners to decide on interim president next week

Thursday, July 13, 2006
Chicago Defender
by Mema Ayi

With an eye to the future, the Cook County Board of Commissioners Wednesday praised the tenure of President John H. Stroger Jr. (D-4th) while formally accepting his resignation.
Cook County Commissioners Bobbie Steele (D-2nd) and Earlean Collins (D-3rd)
His interim successor will be elected by the county board at a special meeting next week.
Commissioner Bobbie Steele (D-2nd), considered the frontrunner for the interim presidency, is expected to have only to vie against Carl Hansen (R-15th), who has said he has the support of seven board members.
Steele can count on the support of Commissioner Jerry Butler (D-3rd), but Commissioners Earlean Collins (D-1st) and Deborah Sims (D-5th) have not said publicly that they will back her.
At Wednesday’s meeting Collins argued that the interim president should be confirmed with at least nine votes. She also argued that the results of the election could be challenged if there was no representative from the 4th District.
“This disenfranchises the 4th District by not waiting until Stroger’s replacement is named,” Collins said.
Commissioners will have to vote yea or nay and will just have to trust that their colleagues will “act like grownups” when votes are cast next week, said president pro tem Joseph Mario Moreno (D-7th).
“I think we have no alternative,” he said.
The board has operated without Stroger since he suffered a serious stroke one week before the March 21 primary election.
Despite his illness, Stroger was still able to secure a narrow victory over opponent Forrest Claypool (D-12th).
His resignation will also mean changes at the county no matter who fills his seat.
“I see this as a great step forward for progressive Democrats and for change in the county,” Steele told the Defender.
Commissioner Joan Patricia Murphy (D-6th), who also has publicly pledged her support for Steele as interim president, called Stroger a gentleman in the truest sense of the word. Murphy also said she was disappointed by the actions of some of her fellow commissioners during Stroger’s illness.
“I have been appalled by the insensitivities of some of the people on this board,” Murphy said.
Commissioner Tony Peraica (R-16), also the Republican nominee for county board president, said he never meant to disrespect Stroger or his family.
In May, Peraica called for a competency hearing to determine whether Stroger was healthy enough to return to his post.
“I always did what my oath of office required me to do and I would do it again today,” Peraica said.
The county board, in Stroger’s absence, has not been the same, he added.
“This is truly the end of an era today,” Peraica said. “I think he called me Peraico on purpose as a way to needle me and to throw me off balance.”
Collins said she grew to respect Stroger, but that the first few years were rough.
“When people leave or die, people say nice things about them. I called (Stroger) a dictator because he would not let you speak against his ideas,” said Collins who supported Stroger as a primary candidate because she believed he was going to make changes in the coming years.  “I regret the fact that he did not have the opportunity to serve the next term because it would have made a tremendous difference.” She added.
While the county board will decide Wednesday who will finish Stroger’s term, a day earlier, Cook County’s 80 Democratic committeemen will decide who will take the 77-year-old’s place on the ballot.
In a scenario offered last month by Stroger’s son Ald. Todd Stroger (8th), the younger Stroger would take his father’s place on the ballot and Ald. William Beavers (7th) would take Stroger’s commissioner’s post.
Despite interest from Steele and Cong. Danny Davis (D-7th), insiders have said Stroger and Beavers are likely to be slated out of loyalty to the elder Stroger.
Peraica has said Ald. Stroger is not qualified to serve as county board president.
But as a county commissioner, Beavers, Peraica said, will give the county board some “color” and probably provide some good debates.
“Beavers will learn on his first day that he will not be a floor leader. He will have to learn that this is not a rubber stamp board,” Peraica said.
Commissioner Larry Suffredin (D-13th) seemed less than thrilled about the prospect of Beavers moving over to the county board.
“ ‘Leave it to Beaver’ was canceled in the early ’60s,” Suffredin said.

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