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Beavers' words harsh, but not without merit.

Thursday, November 29, 2007
Chicago Sun-Times

He says out loud what some have been thinking privately

Leave it to Beavers. In an undeniably crude way, Cook County Commissioner William Beavers has raised an issue that polite politicians have tip-toed around for years. When a white man was head of the Cook County Board, there may have been scandals and budget battles, but nothing like what we've seen since a black man has been at the helm.

"If Todd was a white man, he wouldn't have half these problems," he said Tuesday during a tense Cook County Board meeting. "This is a remake of the Harold Washington days. . . . Who's gonna control the county -- white or black -- that's all this is," Beavers said.

Beavers doesn't believe in pussyfooting around.

Beavers is credited with orchestrating the coup that put former Cook County Board President John Stroger in charge. On Tuesday, he blasted Commissioner Anthony Peraica, Stroger's most vocal critic, saying Peraica "hates everybody who's black . . . all black elected officials."

"Are you surprised by those accusations?" I asked Peraica.

"Yeah, I thought we were beyond that in our development of political culture," Peraica said. "Apparently, Beavers is a throwback to the old-style politics. He's back in a dinosaur era. He is an anachronism in today's political landscape. He's been about the concept of using race for his own political purposes."

Peraica maintains that his opposition to Stroger's proposed budget fix has nothing to do with race and everything to do with the numbers.

"This is not about personalities and not about race," he said. "What this is about is protecting the Cook County taxpayers who are being taxed out of their homes and out of their cars."

Still, there is a longstanding perception that what Beavers said is a sad fact -- that if a white man were sitting in the president's chair, commissioners would have passed the 2 percent sales tax increase without a ruckus rather than force Stroger to take a meat cleaver to the departments funded by the county.

As ridiculous as Beavers' accusation may sound to some people, more than a few people -- many of whom are astute about the political shenanigans within city and county government -- have said as much to me off the record.

Some of these people reluctantly supported Stroger although they didn't like that he was handed his father's seat after the elder Stroger suffered a debilitating stroke in the middle of a re-election campaign.

Frankly, I thought the handoff was a scandalous abuse of the political system even though that same system has been manipulated for the benefit of other political families.

As my mother would say, two wrongs don't make a right.

Still, the perception that race is relevant when it comes to who heads up local government didn't start with Beavers or
Todd Stroger. It was no secret that the elder Stroger, who supported the regular Democratic Party in the face of a steamroller like the late Mayor Harold Washington, was installed in the top slot at the board because he was a loyal Democrat.

But contrary to off-repeated criticisms, patronage didn't start with John Stroger, either. Black politicians didn't invent patronage. They inherited it and learned how to make it work for their own constituents.

Interestingly, when the political pie was carved up, one of the region's most powerful black politicians got the branch of government that primarily provides services used by people in the lower-income brackets.

Now, the old rules don't apply -- at least when it comes to the County Board.

So while Beavers' comments were rude, he likely struck a chord with some blacks. After all, isn't this the type of thing that happens all too often? As soon as a black person is in charge of something, the scope of his or her authority is challenged.

What's going on at the Cook County Board is that kind of power grab. Stroger may have won his father's seat, but his foes will be darned if they let him have even the amount of power his father had -- or his clout.

The fact that many of Stroger's harshest critics are angry white men has given Beavers' outlandish remarks room to fester, and that will make it even harder for Stroger to pass a budget.

That's unfortunate, especially since it will be Beavers' constituents who will suffer.

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