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Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Stroger's Mess

Introduction: For full disclosure, I am supporter of Tony Peraica for Cook County State's Attorney, and Peraica is a long time rival of not only Todd Stroger but his father John. That said, the reason that I support Peraica is he is one of the few in Cook County that is battling against the deep seeded corruption that exists there. Among Peraica's biggest targets is Todd Stroger. Finally, for those outside of Chicago, keep in mind that Barack Obama endorsed Stroger in 2006 for Cook County Board President, campaigned for him, and now Stroger has returned the favor for Obama in the Presidential election. I believe that McCain and other Republicans would be wise to make an issue of Obama's ties to corruption in his home city, county and state.

CBS 2 in Chicago had this report about the troubles that Todd Stroger is facing in his role as Cook County Board President. (please note there is an excellent six minute video that doesn't embed and thus I encourage you to follow the link and watch the video)

Financial troubles at Cook County's Stroger Hospital and health clinics are worse than previously reported. Officials tell CBS 2 that income fell short by $21.6 million in the first four months of the fiscal year, about 24 percent less than projected.

They blame a worsening economy, adding that the number of patients without any health insurance of any kind increased about 4 percent. It's one more headache for embattled County Board President Todd Stroger. Some of the mess Stroger faces he inherited from his father, who long ran county government.

But as CBS 2's look at Todd Stroger shows, he's done plenty to anger voters: tax increases, pay raises for top deputies, and job layoffs followed now by a big round of new hiring.

Now the worsening economy is an easy target for blame in this crisis, however I suspect that Tony Peraica would find all sorts of other things to blame. Peraica would likely say that the budget crisis is caused by a bloated government rooted in systemic corruption. I know this because that is exactly what he has said at every campaign event I have seen him at. Stroger has earned the reputation for patronage, hiring on friends and powerful allies for cushy jobs. By Peraica's estimate, his staff is bloated and the government is run terribly inefficiently.

It is important to understand just how it is that Todd Stroger came to be Cook County Board President. His father John was running for re election in 2006 when ...

On March 14, 2006, John Stroger, Cook County Board of Commissioners president since 1994 and Todd Stroger's father, suffered a serious stroke one week before the
Democratic primary.[1] John Stroger eventually won the Democratic nomination, winning about 53 percent of the votes cast, defeating Forrest Claypool. For months after the elder Stroger's stroke he did not appear in public, and his family provided little information about his condition.

Shortly after the stroke, Todd Stroger gave noncommittal responses about the likelihood that his father would remain on the ballot. But in May, he reversed his previous stance, saying his father would return to office.[2] Ultimately, John Stroger would submit his resignation. At the same time that John Stroger submitted his resignation, it was announced that alderman William Beavers would assume the County Commissioner seat while Todd Stroger, if elected, would take over the County Board presidency. This announcement came four days after the deadline for third-party candidates to file for the Board presidency race.[3]

In the aftermath of his father's resignation, Todd Stroger emerged as the front-runner for his father's presidential seat. His main opponent was U.S. Representative Danny K. Davis. Another opponent, County Commissioner Bobbie Steele, dropped out of the race shortly before party leaders chose a new candidate.[3]

On July 18, 2006, the Cook County Democratic Central Committee (a collection of 80 county Democratic party leaders also known as "ward committeemen" or "township committeemen") overwhelmingly chose Todd Stroger to replace his father as the Democratic candidate for Cook County Board president for the Nov. 7, 2006 election. The following day, Steele was unanimously elected by the Board as interim president.

Keep in mind that Todd Stroger was a relatively unspectacular Alderman in the Chicago City Council prior to running for President of Cook County. Todd's father John was notorious for being part of the political machine in Cook County famous or should I say notorious for its obscene corruption.

While a member of the Cook County Board, Peraica told this story. He had discovered a suspicious no bid contract that appeared the be granted to a friend of John Stroger's on behalf of Cook County. The contract was being pushed through the board with alacrity. In fact, it was being pushed through with too much alacrity. The contract hadn't passed its standard 96 hour time period when Stroger wanted to vote on it. Peraica discovered this and found allies on the board to oppose the contract. When it came up for a vote, Stroger was defeated handily 15-2. Despite the defeat, and in front of a full contingent of media, Stroger nailed his gavel and said the motion to accept the contract had passed.

This is the sort of political pedigree that Todd Stroger has. As the piece mentions, Stroger has recently passed the biggest sales tax increase in the United States. Despite that Cook County Hospital is struggling to survive. On top of this, CBS 2 has discovered several "friends of Stroger" that are currently holding onto cushy six figure jobs on the dime of Cook County tax payers.

On a national level, to me the relationship between Stroger, as well as the entire Chicago, Cook County, and Springfield political machine and Barack Obama is the most important unreported story there is. While Barack Obama holds himself out as some sort of agent of change, he is in fact a product of the same corrupt and cynical political machine that produces the likes of Todd Stroger. Everything I have reported is common knowledge here in Cook County and yet Barack Obama campaigned for Todd Stroger and now Stroger is returning the favor this time around.

It is simply disingenous and cynical for Obama to hold himself as some sort of agent of change when you consider that most of his biggest political allies are part of one of the most corrupt and cynical political machines in US history.

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