Stroger should take lessons from Daley
Friday, May 01, 2009
by William Lee
I never thought Mayor Richard M. Daley would be my example for
scandal management, but he definitely has a world of smarts beyond that
of Cook County Board President Todd Stroger.
Though it's not smarts as much as it is common sense.
Had Daley hired a felonious busboy for a high-paying, do-nothing
city job who later was arrested, I certainly wouldn't expect to see
Daley's press secretary, Jacquelyn Heard, or his cousin, Homer Glen
Mayor Jim Daley, bailing him out of jail. The mayor was schooled by his
dad, the master of Chicago politics. He knows the political rule of
The boss must be several steps away from a nasty grease fire - you
know, so you don't get popped - every good politician and decent chef
knows that, Todd. It's Politics 101.
Of course, I'm referring to the ongoing furor surrounding Stroger,
his cousin, former county chief financial officer Donna Dunnings and
Tony Cole, a disgraced former college basketball player and patronage
job recepient "fired for lying on his job application." Of course, by
now you know there's much more to the story than that.
Cole, 29, captivated Stroger at a North Side steakhouse enough to
finagle a $61,000 job, despite having a long list of criminal and
ethical lapses. After being arrested for violating an order of
protection in January, Dunnings, accompanied by Stroger spokesman and
longtime friend Gene Mullin, came to bail Cole out.
We're told that both Stroger and Dunnings sought to "mentor" the
young man. A source with the county told me Cole's main job was
bragging about his connections to Stroger, acting aggressively in the
workplace and speaking rudely to co-workers, especially female
How does this happen in a government office? Well if he's to be
believed, Cole has dropped hints of a bigger scandal lurking.
Prosecutors are interested and have issued subpoenas in Stroger's
office and questioned Cole.
Stroger has responded by going on a media tour, including an
excrutiating interview on "Chicago Tonight," where he looked more
defensive than Brian Urlacher at the running of the bulls (Todd looks
quite uncomfortable lying on television). One wonders what his media
handler - veteran Southland spin doctor Sean Howard - was thinking in
letting Stroger off his leash.
This latest scandal highlights my basic gripe with Stroger;
politically there's nothing particularly exceptional about him; he's
nothing more than a status quo place holder chosen by Democratic
committeemen to make sure the patronage machine runs smoothly.
The leaders of major municipalities should be, at best, dynamic and
interested in improving their governments and, at least, intelligent
and good at delegating responsiblity. Though a longtime cog in the
Chicago Machine, Stroger's dad, John, was a high-powered, charismatic
and intelligent politician who chose the right people for important
In 2003, when a fire in the County Administration Building killed
six people and caused major damage, Stroger's chief of staff, Pat
Shymanski, expertly organized the temporary move of several county
departments and several hundred people to other county buildings while
the building was repaired and the fire investigated.
His son? He fired a convicted steakhouse busboy whom his cousin, the
county's top financial officer, bailed out of jail twice, but not
before giving him a raise.
You can't make this stuff up.
"There's not a level head around him," said one close observer.
The truly sad thing is that despite the absurdity surrounding the
entire affair, Stroger still has an outside chance of winning his seat
next year. A lackluster cast of opponents and low voter turnout may
have more to do with it than racial politics, as some have suggested.
Stroger is an unpopular figure around the county, but do enough people
dislike him enough to go to the polls and vote him out?
Hyde Park Ald. Toni Preckwinkle (4th), who's running against
Stroger, may want to call in a favor and get an endorsement from old
friend President Barack Obama if she wants to boost her name
recognition and try to steal a bit of his thunder. Perennial Stroger
foe Forrest Claypool also may want to visit a South Side church or two
and make his case why he's a better choice. Because from what I can
tell, everyone's waiting for The One to emerge in the county board
William Lee can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (708) 633-6747