Many offer to lift Stroger's burdenJohn Daley says he'll consider interim post
Monday, June 12, 2006
by Mickey Ciokajlo
Amid increased jockeying over replacing the ailing John Stroger, Cook County Commissioner John Daley said Monday he would consider serving as interim County Board president but said the post should go to an African-American in the fall.
The move by Daley, the brother of Mayor Richard Daley, underscored a behind-the-scenes effort to impose order in county government while various factions maneuver to get Stroger's job if he is unable to return from a serious stroke three months ago.
Daley's offer added a new twist to the political intrigue that has intensified as Stroger's relatives and allies refuse to offer any details about his health, particularly since his latest return to the hospital last week.
Ald. William Beavers (7th), who has been acting as a spokesman for the Stroger family, said he had not seen Stroger since he was readmitted to the hospital Thursday.
"I just know he's doing well," Beavers said, citing conversations with Stroger's family.
Beavers' name has surfaced as a possible successor to Stroger, and Stroger's son, Ald. Todd Stroger (8th), has said he would be interested in replacing his father as the Democratic nominee on the Nov. 7 ballot if he can't run. But both have urged patience, saying John Stroger will decide his own fate in July.
But Commissioner Bobbie Steele (D-Chicago) urged John Stroger to focus on his recovery and repeated her interest in serving as both interim president and the Democratic nominee for a full four-year term on the November ballot.
The power vacuum created by Stroger's health problems has reopened a long-standing rift between West Side and South Side black politicians.
Beavers and John and Todd Stroger represent voter-rich wards on the South Side that give them great influence in selecting a new nominee.
Steele and Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.), who also has expressed an interest in replacing Stroger on the fall ballot, are from the West Side.
Two other county commissioners, meanwhile, floated a draft ordinance to be introduced at next week's County Board meeting that would establish a process to allow Stroger to temporarily transfer his executive powers to another board member, who would serve as acting president.
While Stroger's staff insists that he remains in charge, commissioners have been struggling with how to address the sensitive topic of making sure the county has effective leadership in the face of mounting financial difficulties and tough labor negotiations.
John Daley, the chairman of the county Finance Committee, said some commissioners have told him that if there's an interim president, it should not be the same person who is running in the November election.
Asked if he had an interest in the position on an interim basis, Daley said, "I'd consider it."
As for the November election, Daley said, "I would not be the nominee under any circumstance."
Daley said he believes that since the incumbent is African-American, the party's nominee also should be an African-American.
Daley was once considered a possible successor to Stroger. In recent years his political career has been marred as federal investigators have dug into corruption at City Hall. Although he has never been accused of any wrongdoing, Daley sold insurance to some of the players in the Hired Truck scandal, and he was close to Robert Sorich, a former city official currently on trial in the hiring scandal.
Commissioner Gregg Goslin (R-Glenview) said he could absolutely support Daley.
"The finance chair is the second big guy in this government," Goslin said. "I think it's a natural progression."
State law is silent on the question of temporarily transferring executive power. It only says that county commissioners select a replacement among themselves in the event of "death, resignation, removal from office or other inability to act," which is not defined.
An ordinance that Goslin and Commissioner Larry Suffredin (D-Evanston) intend to introduce at the June 20 board meeting would allow Stroger to voluntarily hand over power on a temporary basis and get it back at a time of his choosing.
Suffredin hopes to get a vote on the ordinance next week, but he doesn't expect movement on the naming of an interim president until Stroger issues a letter relinquishing executive power.
"All it does is give President Stroger an option," Goslin said. "If he doesn't send a letter, it doesn't go into effect."
Beavers said the ordinance amounted to the board changing the rules, and he expressed doubt it would pass.
"There's no rules to put in an interim president, so why do they want to change the rules in the middle of the stream?" Beavers said.
"Why can't they wait?" he asked, noting the family has said John Stroger will make a decision by July.
At a news conference Monday that had the air of a campaign rally, Steele told about three dozen cheering supporters that her 20 years on the board made her the most qualified to serve as interim president.
"If this action does take place, the coalition ... here today and many others are saying unequivocally, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Bobbie Steele is the best man for the job," she said.
A Steele supporter and fellow West Side Democrat, state Sen. Rickey Hendon, said he would find it "personally appalling" if the African-American community is divided because of the neighborhood where Steele lives or because she is a woman.
One city Democrat aligned with the mayor said it made sense to appoint John Daley as interim president with the full knowledge that he would not seek the job in November.
"If you know you're going to have a black president and you know the post is going to the black community, it makes sense to try to impose some calm while there's fighting and angling in the black community," said the Democratic officeholder, who asked not to be identified. "This gives them time to put their votes together and cut their deals" for the party's nomination.