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Dance of the dinosaurs

Wednesday, July 19, 2006
Chicago Tribune

"I tell you the drums are rumbling and the people want to be heard. They want your decisions to reflect their views. ... We all have lineage, we all have heritage, we all have ambition and we all have a desire to serve. To serve, in the broadest sense, means some sense of fairness, equality, equal opportunity, equal treatment and equal justice."

--U.S. Rep. Danny Davis at Tuesday's Cook County Democratic Party slating session

Just as in Jurassic Park, the dinosaurs came alive Tuesday, prancing and preening and swinging their tails to show power. Democratic committeemen gathered in a sweltering hotel meeting room--no threatening Ice Age here--to choose their party's nominee in the race for presidency of the Cook County Board.

In speech after self-serving speech, various committeemen touted either of the two Chicago candidates--U.S. Rep. Danny Davis and Ald. Todd Stroger (8th). That could have been a noble exercise, with calls to improve the moribund county government. Instead, the clamor largely recounted how either Davis or Stroger had helped the speaker get elected, or stay elected: He came to my event, he walked precincts with me, he voted for ... me.

That was all the more off-putting because Davis, in his own campaign speech for the nomination, had warned the self-satisfied insiders seated before him that their unseemly process for replacing John Stroger had hurt the Cook County Democratic Party.

Many voters are resentful, Davis suggested, at the way the insiders had rigged that process so that Todd Stroger would become the nominee--the better to protect county jobholders who live on Chicago's South Side. In Davis' words:

"I don't like the idea of children growing up in my [West Side] neighborhood feeling that they need to move to another community to be seriously considered for a job in county government."

The dinosaurs didn't much want to hear Davis chastise them for rigging the process. They live to rig the process. They want county government just as it is: a featherbedded repository of cushy jobs for Democrats with clout or connections.

So the dinosaurs snorted and stomped and gave 77 percent of their weighted vote to Todd Stroger, whose monotonous campaign speech could have inspired only his Republican opponent, County Board member Tony Peraica. If enough voters tune in to this race, Peraica will win and Todd Stroger will stand exposed as a bantamweight. Todd Stroger's next good idea for rescuing a county government that taxes too onerously and spends too wastefully will be his first.

Davis didn't say any of that. He was polite. He did, though, find a gentle way to remind the committeemen that choosing Todd Stroger as their nominee would be settling for second-best:

"I urge that we listen and hear the beat of the not too distant drums because they are indeed rumbling. ... Fellow Democrats, I have a strong feeling that your decision may not be where the people are. Therefore, I urge that we find a way to be more in tune with the people--and that we seek to get the best that we can find."

By no honest measure is Todd Stroger the best possible candidate to represent his party in a contest to lead a $3 billion government that is bigger than those of many states. Todd Stroger does, though, have pedigree and birthright. He has clout and connections, particularly with the committeemen who selected him Tuesday.

That's the trouble with living in Jurassic Park. You can hear the rousing theme music and the pounding of feet. What you can't hear are the rumbling drums and the anger of Cook County voters who want to be heard.

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