County Board's impasse over Stroger stands -- for now
Tuesday, June 13, 2006
by MARK BROWN SUN-TIMES COLUMNIST
Let's clear this up. As of now, there is not enough support on the Cook County Board to remove President John Stroger against his will. It's just not going to happen. "I think that's a fair statement," Commissioner Larry Suffredin said Monday when I ran that hypothesis by him after surveying a number of his fellow board members.
Suffredin is the commissioner who has been trying to put together a "compromise" plan that would create a succession process for the board presidency, in effect allowing for the involuntary replacement of the stricken Stroger.
Suffredin, a Democrat, doesn't have the votes for such a plan, and he's not going to have them by the time the County Board meets next week either, or the week after that.
While a majority of the board may wish Stroger would step aside and soon, they aren't ready to push him out in the face of uncertain legalities, racial sensitivities and the resulting volatile politics.
"I would not be part of that," said Commissioner Gregg Goslin, an independent-minded Republican whose support would likely be needed for Stroger to be involuntarily removed. "I can tell you there's not nine votes to force him out, and I wouldn't vote for it."
Neither would Republican Peter Silvestri or even Democrat Michael Quigley, a fierce Stroger critic -- not that he wouldn't do so if he thought the County Board had the power.
"We don't have the statutory authority to push him out of office," Quigley said.
'A softer sell'
That's why Suffredin and Goslin are switching to Plan B, a measure that would allow for Stroger to voluntarily hand over power on a temporary basis and then resume his duties when he decided he was ready.
Under the current climate, I don't think that's going to fly either -- unless Stroger or his family signals that he's amenable. In the absence of such a signal, I'm not sure why anybody would vote for it. The voluntary removal plan doesn't really do much except afford Stroger a graceful way out if he wants one.
Suffredin and Goslin argue it gives Stroger another option. As it stands now, he can't hand anybody else the county's reins without giving up the job entirely. This plan would allow him to keep his salary and benefits and reclaim his powers at his choosing.
"It's a softer sell," said Goslin, who took pains last week to distance himself from a proposal by Commissioner Tony Peraica, the Republican nominee for Stroger's job. Peraica wanted to force a competency hearing to make Stroger prove he is still capable of carrying out the duties of his office.
Peraica's move, conducted against the backdrop of behind-the-scenes maneuvering by Commissioner Bobbie Steele to line up enough votes to be picked as Stroger's interim replacement, created the impression of a coup being undertaken against a sick man -- with politically disastrous results for Steele.
Steele tried to repair the damage Monday by holding a rally to openly make her case for the job if it becomes open, attempting to smooth over her attempted power grab with talk about concern for Stroger's health.
If Stroger's job becomes vacant, there is indeed a chance that the veteran Steele could put together enough support from her fellow commissioners to finish up the last few months of his term.
But her handling of the matter has made it that much more unlikely that Democratic committeemen would pick her to replace Stroger on the November ballot.
Quigley will go public today with his analysis that the county is running $44 million behind on projected revenues for this year, opening a budget hole that he believes deserves the immediate attention of a chief executive empowered to make decisions -- not just the bureaucrats entrusted to carry them out. Everybody agrees that the county is facing even bigger problems for next year's budget, a process due to begin.
More than one commissioner with whom I spoke Monday urged the Stroger family to make a decision soon before both the political and governmental situation gets out of hand. Pressure will continue to grow, they say, but Stroger still holds all the cards.
Stroger family not budging
There is still no indication, though, that the Strogers are ready to budge from their July timetable.
As they delay, the odds increase that this is going to wind up in the courts.
Peraica told me prior to last week's County Board meeting that he would file suit to forcibly remove Stroger if the board failed to act. He doesn't share everyone else's concern that the legal authority to do so isn't there. His measure is due up again at next week's board meeting, and after it gets shot down then, I figure he won't hold off much longer.
If you think this is a circus now, just wait.