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Stroger should have made diagnosis public

Monday, July 09, 2007
Chicago Sun-Times

There is no denying that Todd Stroger thinks he had some compelling personal reasons to keep his prostate cancer secret in the weeks before he was installed as the Democratic candidate for Cook County Board president -- and even after he won the general election. His mother was already coping with the debilitating illness of his father, John Stroger, who suffered a devastating stroke while preparing to run for re-election as board president, and Todd didn't want to upset her with news of his own illness.

But as much as we may understand a son's need to shelter his mother or any individual's desire to keep personal information such as a health problem to himself, anyone who runs for public office must play by different rules. Unlike those celebrities who have the right to retreat from the media following a marital breakup or act of indiscretion or entry into a rehab clinic, a public official or candidate for office is obligated to disclose information that could have a bearing on his ability to do the job in question.

That Stroger kept his illness to himself even while the public was given misleading statements about his stricken father does not speak well about his judgment. At various points following his stroke, John Stroger was said to be recovering, giving firm handshakes and signing forms. We now know it's unlikely those stories were true.

Todd Stroger, who withheld news of his prostate cancer until the day he was operated on for it, said he kept quiet about his illness, going back to April of 2006, because he knew it "wasn't truly life-threatening." That would actually be a stronger argument for going public with his cancer diagnosis and allowing his colleagues on the board and the people of Cook County to reach their own conclusions based on the information he provided. Having seen presidential candidates and baseball managers, among other public figures, overcome prostate cancer with little interruption to their careers, most people likely would not see Stroger's illness as a disqualifying factor. Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.), who has been around Chicago politics for a while, said he didn't think Stroger's candidacy would have been compromised by earlier disclosure of the disease -- especially not with the Democratic ward committeemen grinding out support for him.

Ultimately, it's all about the public trust. We can all hope that, having gone through this difficult stretch, the 44-year-old Stroger will be more honest and forthright -- that his advocacy of prostate exams for men over 40 symbolizes a newfound sense of responsiveness and responsibility.

We also hope he's ready to tackle the other disease marking his presidency: patronage. It's not too late to start.

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