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Todd's budget problems go beyond race.

Thursday, November 29, 2007
Special to suffredin.org
by MARK BROWN

Real issue is hefty tax increase pushed by a political lightweight


Bill Beavers says Todd Stroger can't get his county budget approved "because he's black."


That would be the budget that contains about $900 million in tax increases.


Does anybody think that might be part of the problem?


I was over at the Cook County Board meeting the other morning to see how the commissioners were going to handle Stroger's budget. Everyone looked bored laboring through the tedious process of debating proposed budget amendments.


That's how the budget is done at the county, where much of the time, the process even resembles democracy.


It's a lot different from the City Council, where Beavers earned his stripes before coming to the County Board this year to watch Todd Stroger's back, a move we were led to believe at the time was at the request of Todd's father, the ailing John Stroger Jr.


At the county, there are 17 commissioners, some of whom are actually Republicans. They're not just Republicans in name, but often vote and think and act like real Republicans, which Beavers didn't see a lot at the City Council.


The board also has independents -- troublesome Democrats who pretty much do as they please without waiting for marching orders or becoming overly concerned with how their chief executive might punish them if they get out of line.


Neither the Republicans nor independents would survive very long by green-lighting record tax increases, especially after promising voters they'd do the opposite, even if the County Board president were some shade of pink.


That makes it tough for Todd Stroger, who unlike his father doesn't even have one of those 17 votes and hasn't done much yet to earn the respect of those who do. Nor does he have the political muscle to quash amendments to his budget or muzzle debate.


Voters weren't warned

And that brings me back to Tuesday's meeting. You see, I slipped out for a while during the boring part, and when I got back, everybody was buzzing about what Beavers had said.


"If Todd was a white man, he wouldn't have half these problems," Beavers complained, preposterously comparing the county impasse to the 1980s' Council Wars fight of former Mayor Harold Washington.


"Who's gonna control the county -- white or black -- that's all this is," Beavers continued.


You should understand none of this was part of the meeting. There was a break in the action, and Beavers was invited to step before the cameras, and this is some of what rolled off his tongue. When I got there minutes later, he was back at his desk, smiling and relaxed.


Maybe I should have written about it that day, but I didn't really want to play the part of the white man rising to the bait. After a day's reflection, though, I'm ready to bite.


Todd Stroger's problems are more than skin deep.


His budget is in trouble because it doesn't make sense to people that they should have to pay so much more in taxes to the county. Voters weren't warned that a problem of this magnitude was coming, certainly not by Stroger or his father. They don't want to pay, and their elected representatives aren't keen on crossing them right now.


I would think this is also at least partially true in the African-American community, although only one black county commissioner is threatening to hold out against the tax hikes.


Race card cuts both ways

And so, while it's possible Beavers sincerely believed every word he said, it's also quite possible he was resorting to an old political tactic to shore up Stroger's base of support. If African-American voters believe this fight is all about race, then they're more likely to rally behind Stroger -- and those who back him.


Yet, I will admit there's a grain of truth in what Beavers said, the grain being that it's probably easier for a white politician to stand up to Stroger because he's black.


But more so because he's weak. More so because he has come across from the start as a lightweight who doesn't take the job very seriously. More so because he put forth a shaky budget.


And I'll one up Beavers.


I would suggest the main reason Todd Stroger was elected was "because he's black."


He never even would have been the Democratic nominee in the first place if party leaders weren't determined to preserve his father's ballot spot for an African American after the elder's debilitating stroke.


The race card cuts both ways.


It might work better to cut the budget.



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