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Steele chosen
Cook County commissioner selected as interim president

Thursday, July 20, 2006
Daily Southtown
by Jonathan Lipman

Despite expectations of a long and bitter political fight, Cook County Commissioner Bobbie Steele was chosen in a brief and cordial meeting Wednesday to serve the last four months of retiring President John Stroger's term.
Last-minute political maneuvering and a desire by commissioners to avoid an ugly scene won Steele unanimous support from the board's 11 Democrats. After winning the vote, the board's five Republicans symbolically shifted their votes to her favor.
Steele said she was ready to work with commissioners she has opposed in the past to try and pass a budget in the limited time she has to run the county before the winner of November election takes over on Dec. 4.
"We only have four months to accomplish a lot, but I think a lot can be put in place in those four months," a beaming Steele said. "We need to make immediate changes."
Steele, who will be the first woman to run the county, will take office Aug. 1, when John Stroger's retirement becomes official. Stroger announced his retirement and his withdrawal from the election last month after suffering a serious stroke in March that has left him absent from public life.
On Monday, Steele bowed out of the political fight to replace Stroger on the ballot. Democratic Party leaders Tuesday chose Stroger's son Chicago Ald. Todd Stroger to face Republican Commissioner Tony Peraica in November.
Steele said when withdrawing from that race ó which she was widely expected to lose ó that her goal was to focus on winning fellow commissioners' support for the four-month interim job.
Commissioners had expected a protracted fight with several rounds of balloting to find a candidate that everyone could agree with, but Steele had a majority of the votes locked up early.
Also nominated were Commissioner Forrest Claypool (D-Chicago), Stroger's primary opponent, and Carl Hansen (R-Mount Prospect), the board's longest-serving member after Stroger.
Commissioners told different stories about the last-minute horse-trading that went into the vote, but it appears Steele won a majority when fellow Chicago Democratic Commissioners Joseph Mario Moreno and Earlean Collins decided not to seek the job themselves and backed Steele.
"Collins didn't tell anybody anything until the last millisecond, and that's what made the difference," Commissioner Mike Quigley said. "I told Forrest before it started that you could tell which way this was going."
After it was clear Steele was going to win, Quigley cast his vote for Steele even though he had nominated Claypool, his close ally. Quigley said it was important the winner get more than a slim majority. Claypool changed his vote to support Steele as well before the tally was completed.
"I'd like to abandon the sinking ship of my candidacy and climb about the S.S. Bobbie Steele," Claypool told the board.
All five board Republicans voted for Hansen. But after the tally was announced, Hansen asked that the vote be recorded as unanimous for Steele, and all commissioners agreed.
Without the last-minute support of Moreno and Collins, Steele would not have gotten the majority of votes needed to become president. That would have triggered a second round of balloting, with Republicans switching their votes to Forrest Claypool, which could have then led to a long afternoon of negotiating for a compromise candidate.
Collins said she was tired of the political bickering and wanted Steele's presidency to get off to a good start. She said she had already told Claypool she could not support him, but otherwise had promised her vote to no one.
"I talked to one other person, and they said they would be willing to go with Bobbie. I said, 'Well then that's just it ó we'll just kill it on the first ballot,' " Collins said. "There were a whole lot of shenanigans going on."
Steele thanked commissioners for the rare show of unity and asked for their help in righting a county government that Commissioner Joan Murphy (D-Crestwood) said is facing a budget crisis.
Steele wants to pass a budget during her brief tenure and hopes to use many of the reform ideas previously pushed by Claypool and blocked by Stroger, including consolidation of duplicate agencies at the county's three hospitals.
Steele said she would consider changing senior managers and would probably dump Stroger's chief of staff, Jim Whigham, whom she has criticized for the way he has run the county during Stroger's absence.
She does not plan to clear any plans through her possible successor, Todd Stroger, whom she has criticized for his lack of experience in county government.
"Consult with Todd?" Steele said. "I think Todd should consult with me."


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