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Stroger won't immediately fire Nichols

Tuesday, November 21, 2006
Daily Southtown
by Steve Patterson Special to the Daily Southtown

Cook County Board President-elect Todd Stroger now says he will not fire the county's controversial patronage chief right away but will keep Gerald Nichols on the payroll into January -- despite a federal investigation into allegations that Nichols fixed jobs.
During his campaign, Stroger said he would fire Nichols after taking office, and some expected that to happen on his first day as a show of commitment to reform.
Nichols is suspended from his $114,000-a-year county job in the wake of the federal investigation into county hiring practices. The current board president, Bobbie Steele (D-Chicago), has said she doesn't know what Nichols did to deserve his salary.
Stroger said he will lift the suspension so Nichols can advise him during Stroger's first month in office, providing insights that no one else can.
"I'm going to bring Gerald on to help me figure out who's who and what's what," said Stroger, who takes office next week. "He obviously knows everybody in the county. I don't care what people say. Tell me somebody who doesn't know who Gerald Nichols is."
Stroger insisted that Nichols, a longtime boss in Stroger's 8th Ward political organization, will still be fired in January. But until then, "I don't see any reason not to find out what he knows about what's going on," Stroger said.
Steele earlier said Nichols, as special assistant to former board President John Stroger, Todd Stroger's father, would sort mail and perform similar mundane duties, but "we were unable to verify a real job description" for him.
County Commissioner Tony Peraica (R-Riverside), who ran against Todd Stroger for board president, said bringing Nichols back, no matter how briefly, breaks a campaign promise.
"It's the first sign showing the deception played on the voters," Peraica said. "Gerald Nichols knows how to take advantage of county government and its taxpayers to perpetuate the political machine."
Commissioner Mike Quigley (D-Chicago), who backed Stroger, said "there are plenty of other folks who know how the county operates and could probably advise him for free."
But Stroger is unfazed.
"Maybe they ought to be president," he said of his critics.

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