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Stroger promotes pledges never mad

Friday, June 27, 2008
Daily Herald
by Rob Olmstead

It should have been a much-needed good media day for Cook County Board President Todd Stroger.

After months of being pounded for imposing the largest tax increase in history on county taxpayers, he finally had a good-government pronouncement: He was making good on his campaign pledge to have bar groups appoint independent candidates for the inspector general's office.

Instead, on Thursday he or his speech writer pulled a sow's ear out of a silk purse and tried to give Stroger credit for two other initiatives he never promised -- and in fact opposed -- during his campaign in 2006: turning over the health care and juvenile detention systems to an outside authority.

Specifically, Stroger said, "As you may recall, in the summer and fall of 2006, I campaigned for the office of Cook County board president and promised to create an independent governance structure for the county's health care system, to place the county's juvenile temporary detention center under the authority of the chief judge and to reform and empower the office of the inspector general."

Well, one out of three ain't bad.

Stroger never promised the first two. In fact, in a Daily Herald campaign questionnaire dated September 2006, Stroger was asked point blank about his willingness to turn over the health care system to an independent board.

"I believe that the county board and its president should maintain control over the Bureau of Health," he wrote.

Additionally, Stroger never promised to turn over the juvenile detention center either. On his own campaign Web page, he wrote in 2006, "I am not ready to give up on the JTDC," and instead advocated "owning up to our own mistakes and fixing them ourselves."

Confronted with the discrepancy, Stroger spokesmen insisted the president was correct, even asserting there was documentation to prove it. By the end of the day, though, they reversed course.

"The president misspoke today," said Sean Howard, a Bureau of Health spokesman.

Howard noted that the president had always campaigned on a platform of reforming all three institutions, the juvenile center, the health bureau and the inspector general's office, and to that end, he did fulfill three campaign promises.

But other county leaders remember the health bureau surrender a bit differently. Commissioner Larry Suffredin openly told reporters in February that he had voted for Stroger's tax hike only to get Stroger to accept turning the bureau over to an independent board.

Howard disputes that account, maintaining it was Suffredin who had earlier promised to support a tax increase in exchange for giving state's attorneys pay raises.

Other commissioners had told the Daily Herald prior to the tax increase that they had talks with Stroger about a hospital board surrender, and that he had indicated he wouldn't oppose such a move by the board. But publicly, Stroger always hedged when asked by the media about the possibility. It was only at the budget showdown in February that Stroger publicly committed to it.

And while Stroger is clearly on record supporting the juvenile center transfer to Judge Evans as of January 2007, such legislation had been pending since 2005 with no endorsement by Stroger during the campaign.

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