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Another Stroger pal removed
Steele transfers aide in latest county move

Tuesday, August 22, 2006
Chicago Tribune
by Mickey Ciokajlo

A close aide and political ally of former Cook County Board President John Stroger was moved out of his job but remains on the county payroll, interim President Bobbie Steele said Monday.

Steele said she spoke Friday with Gerald Nichols before transferring him to the county's Bureau of Administration. It was the latest in a series of moves by Steele to remove some former Stroger allies from the top levels of the county government she will lead until Dec. 4, fulfilling Stroger's term.
"Based on our relationship, I didn't think he'd have a significant role in this administration," Steele said.

Nichols, who makes $114,000 per year, reported directly to Stroger, made surrogate appearances on the president's behalf and handled job requests that came directly to Stroger. In the past, Nichols has said that he sent such requests to the proper hiring channels at the county.

Steele said the transfer was unrelated to allegations surfacing Monday that Nichols made a telephone call to a Highway Department supervisor in 2004 recommending the hiring of a politically connected job applicant over a more qualified person.

Steele said she had not asked the inspector general to investigate the claim made by Eric Petraitis, assistant bureau chief in the department's Bureau of Maintenance, in Monday's Chicago Sun-Times that Nichols asked him to recommend an unqualified applicant for a job.

"If he can substantiate his allegations, I think he's entitled to make whatever statement he wants to make," Steele said. "But all of the allegations need to be backed up with facts."

She said she plans to talk to Nichols about the allegation.

In a telephone interview Monday with the Tribune, Petraitis said the one occasion in 2004 was the only time Nichols called him about a job applicant. Petraitis said he had not been contacted by authorities.

County Commissioner Tony Peraica, the Republican candidate for County Board president in the Nov. 7 election, said Monday that Nichols should be placed on leave pending an investigation.

Peraica said Nichols appears to be heavily involved in the campaign of his Democratic opponent, Chicago Ald. Todd Stroger (8th), noting he's seen them together on a number of occasions.

Michael Noonan, Todd Stroger's campaign manager, said Nichols has no official role in the campaign but, like many volunteers, has attended parades and rallies with the alderman. Nichols did not return a call for comment.

Since Steele took office Aug. 1, John Stroger's chief of staff, James Whigham, and Alvin Holley, finance chief of the Health Bureau, have resigned. Steele also replaced Jerry Robinson, who ran the county's troubled juvenile detention center.



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