It’s hard to know at times whether to laugh or cry.
This is always true when discussing Todd Stroger, former president of the Cook County Board.
Zipping down Lake Shore Drive Tuesday morning, I listened to WLS-AM’s “Don Wade & Roma Show” as Stroger joined them for a live interview.
They asked him to respond to a story that producer Don Moseley and I had broken for NBC5 and the Sun-Times. The story was about a report by the inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security ripping the county for its disastrous handling of $45 million in anti-terrorism money.
“Don and Roma, if you saw the article on the front page of the Sun-Times, which seems to want to destroy me and my father’s legacy. And (by) Carol Marin, of course . . . The headline is probably bigger than the article itself,” Stroger said. “They don’t really tell you any of the facts.”
As we’ve been reporting for years now, the facts are appalling.
Following 9/11, the feds understood that we desperately needed better ways for agencies of law enforcement to communicate with one another when seconds counted and lives were in danger. And so the feds gave Cook County millions to equip all of its 128 municipalities with cameras and computers that transmit data to a central command operation.
The county’s first ill-fated contractor was IBM.
“When I came on [in 2006 as president], we found that IBM had done some things that just weren’t working,” claimed Stroger. “They weren’t doing a good job.”
The fact is that during the tenure of Todd’s late father and predecessor, John Stroger, alarm bells already were ringing on Project Shield, according to the IG. Then again, maybe Todd, when he took over the office, was already too preoccupied with long workouts at the East Bank Club to notice.
“Who was responsible for overseeing this?” asked Roma Wade.
An excellent question.
To which Todd Stroger offered an utterly absurd answer, claiming that 128 municipalities actually ran Project Shield. That’s got to gob smack many police chiefs around the county who either refused to participate in Project Shield or bailed out when cameras and equipment began to fail.
“So we got rid of IBM,” said Stroger, “did another bid process, and we got Johnson Controls, which came in and started to turn around what IBM had done earlier.”
According to the IG, “As of April 5th, 2011 . . . municipalities were still experiencing equipment problems and training issues,” though Johnson Controls had billed somewhere in the vicinity of $25 million for its part of the job.
Sen. Mark Kirk and U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley on Monday called for an FBI probe.
“Mark Kirk is a thousand miles away,” said Stroger, though Kirk made his remarks in Chicago, “and I would never put anything into what Quigley says.”
Returning to his criticism of media reporting, Stroger offered a small civics lesson: “Well, Don, you see the problem with newspapers is that government is actually complicated.”
“Wow,” said an understated Roma, “this has been enlightening.”
“You have really cleared this up,” Don added dryly.
Sometimes, in radio as in life, the less you say, the more you convey.