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Rally pushes Steele for interim post

Tuesday, June 13, 2006
Chicago Sun-Times

By ABDON M. PALLASCH, STEVE PATTERSON AND FRAN SPIELMAN

It looked and sounded like a kickoff for Cook County Board member Bobbie Steele's campaign to be named interim board president while John Stroger recovers from a stroke.

Three dozen supporters, some from state Sen. Rickey Hendon's organization, cheered at a rally for Steele at the County Board. Steele said she did not organize it -- women from the community did.

Hendon emceed, warning black voters not to divide their support between South Side Ald. William Beavers (7th) and West Sider Steele. Geography and gender should not keep her from the position she deserves, Hendon said.

Referring to the split in the black community between Aldermen Tim Evans and Eugene Sawyer that helped elect Mayor Daley in 1989, Hendon said a split would be "counterproductive" and "appalling."

'They don't tell us anything'

Stroger has not spoken to Steele since his stroke three months ago. Neither has he called Board President Pro Tem Mario Moreno or Finance Chairman John Daley. They rely on word from Beavers; Stroger's son, Ald. Todd Stroger (8th), or Chief of Staff James Whigham.

"I'm not criticizing Mr. Whigham's style or whatever, but there's no flow of information from the office to us," Steele said after the rally. "We're just kind of like in a holding pattern. I'm vice chairman of finance and they don't tell us anything."

No one could or would say whether Stroger was released from the hospital Monday. Beavers said Todd Stroger told him his father was doing well but Beavers did not ask if Stroger had been released.

The Sun-Times reported last week that support was building for Steele to take over temporarily.

On Monday, she told supporters, "President Stroger should use all of his energy to focus on his recovery ... and not have to worry about the business of county government."

Moreno, Daley and Beavers criticized Steele and Hendon, saying they should wait for Stroger's family to announce whether he will retire.

"The family has said they'll make a decision in July -- why can't they wait?" Beavers said. All three men said Steele does not have the votes to create an interim president post.

Hendon said a split would elect John Daley as president. Daley said he would not comment on whether he was interested in the post before the Stroger family's announcement.

Of the 80 Democratic committeemen who would choose a replacement for Stroger if he decides not to run, none appeared with Steele Monday. Beavers is a committeeman and lives in Stroger's district. Stroger's son Todd also has expressed interest in the job.

One commissioner pleased with Monday's rally was Tony Peraica -- the GOP candidate for County Board president. He said he may vote for Steele for interim president and he is glad she supports a procedure to name an interim president.

The plan Steele and Commissioner Larry Suffredin are crafting would be softer than Peraica's, allowing Stroger to return if his condition improves, Suffredin said.

Beavers said he knows Stroger is getting better because on Thursday, "he wanted a friend of mine to bring him some fish to eat. A person ordering these kinds of things, that means his mind is competent and he knows what he wants to eat," Beavers said.



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