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Stroger, longtime allies clash

Thursday, March 24, 2005
Chicago Sun-Times

As he decides whether to retire or run again, Cook County Board President John Stroger's relations with longtime allies who want to succeed him are growing testier.

Two recent incidents showed that what is normally kept behind closed doors is slowly pressing out for public consumption.

Commissioner John Daley, second-in-command to Stroger as the finance chairman, has been loyal to Stroger for the entire 10 years he has been president. But during this year's contentious budget battles, Daley seemed to lose patience with Stroger and his insistence on new taxes instead of budget cuts, calling some of Stroger's decisions "a problem."

Then, last week, Daley publicly snapped at Stroger -- something political observers said they had not seen before.

Commissioner Daley exasperated

As Commissioner Mike Quigley was asking for regular tallies on how much the county spends on outside attorneys, Stroger suggested the request could overtax his employees. Daley, meanwhile, indicated he had spoken with Quigley earlier about the request and would address it further later.

Stroger wasn't satisfied and continued a bit of a debate about it, as Daley conferred with Stroger's parliamentarian, William Quinlan.

Stroger was miffed by that and asked for Daley's full attention -- something, ironically, commissioners regularly have to ask of Stroger when they're speaking.

Daley told Stroger "I've discussed this with Commissioner Quigley and I have a very clear understanding" of Stroger's view on the issue. Then he resumed talking to Quinlan.

Stroger wasn't satisfied and again made comments about Daley's attention, causing an exasperated Daley to give up talking to Quinlan and, without looking at Stroger, reply "I can do two things at once."

The room went quiet for a moment, as the two don't generally snap at each other in public. Political observers have long speculated that Daley could supplant Stroger as president, though he has resisted given the negative effect it could have on his brother, Mayor Daley, and because the Daley and Stroger families are close.

Another recent spat became public after it was disclosed that Cook County Assessor Jim Houlihan has been meeting with ward and township Democratic committeemen, trying to lock up their support for him if Stroger decides not to run again. Stroger resents Houlihan and other elected officials trying out Stroger's chair for size while he's still sitting in it.

Houlihan brought a delegation of economic development officials from County Down in Northern Ireland into Stroger's office earlier this month, and at one point Houlihan put his arm around Stroger and said with a smile, "You know, we're all Irish at the core."

Stroger smiled back and told him, "All the Irish must remember that there is some loyalty."

Stroger has retreated to Florida for a week with his wife, who he had earlier said would have a major say in whether or not he runs again. He recently bought a condominium there, but said many politicians own condominiums in Florida and that should not be mistaken as a retirement plan.

Asked if he would spend part of his vacation talking with his wife about whether or not he should run again, Stroger smiled and said, he wouldn't be thinking about "anything but romance."



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