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Stroger is Now Firm: Old Hospital Should Go

Wednesday, June 25, 2003
Chicago Tribune
by Mickey Ciokajlo

After sending mixed messages a week ago about whether he would entertain proposals to renovate the old Cook County Hospital, County Board President John Stroger firmed up his position Tuesday that it should be demolished.

During a joint committee meeting, Stroger stressed that the county has been committed for years to tearing down the structure as part of its deal to build the new hospital, which opened in December and is named for Stroger.

"We made certain statements that we would do just what we're trying to do," Stroger told commissioners during the meeting called to discuss the old building's future. "And that is what I am trying to do as the president of the County Board. My name went on these documents. ... I'm still here trying to keep my commitment."

Stroger stressed that he loves the city and its history, "but there comes a time when we have to move."

While Stroger has grown more entrenched in his position, some other commissioners are working vigorously to get the board to call a hearing in which developers could float proposals to rehab the building for new uses.

The leader of that movement, Evanston Democrat Larry Suffredin, said after Tuesday's committee hearing that he had nine votes lined up--a majority of the 17-member board--to pass a resolution next Monday calling for such a hearing.

Suffredin wouldn't say which commissioners were on his side, and some of his colleagues questioned whether he had indeed mustered the majority vote.

"If there aren't nine votes, it's close," said Elmwood Park Republican Peter Silvestri, who co-sponsored the resolution with Suffredin.

While such a hearing may not in itself stop the demolition process, supporters hope it could buy time. It also would pose a challenge to Stroger's power to sway the board.

Stroger, who has been president for nine years, ruled with a tight grip until the November election of Suffredin and four other new members, some of whom have made a point of bucking the administration. Stroger downplayed Suffredin's claim of having majority support, saying he hasn't polled the commissioners to see where they stand.

Commissioners at Tuesday's joint meeting of the Construction and the Health and Hospitals Committees were prevented from voting on the resolution because the meeting notice had not been posted 72 hours in advance as required by law.

Commissioners took testimony from the public and called another joint committee meeting for Monday, where a vote is expected.

Next Tuesday, Stroger's staff at the regular County Board meeting will seek permission to advertise for bids to abate contamination at the hospital and to demolish it.

A timeline released by the administration called for the demolition application to be obtained in December, with the actual teardown work starting in the spring.

"I've got to get this back on the decision screen for President Stroger. As far as he's concerned the decision was made a long time ago," Suffredin said after the meeting. "Until the fat lady sings, the opera is still on. All planned developments are open to amendment until the last structure is completed." Also Tuesday, the board's Human Relations Committee, chaired by Commissioner Mike Quigley, heard testimony on a proposed domestic partnership registry allowing same-sex couples to register with the county clerk. The committee is expected to vote on that proposal Tuesday.



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