The deed is doneDemocratic leaders all but hand over the Cook County reins from father to son, unless voters have another idea
Wednesday, July 19, 2006
by Rick Pearson and Mickey Ciokajlo
Dan Mihalopoulos contributed to this report
As Democratic committeemen prepared Tuesday to make Todd Stroger their nominee for Cook County Board president in November, Ald. Howard Brookins (21st) told them it was time to unite behind a new generation as "the torch is being passed" from father to son.
But even as they overwhelmingly chose Todd Stroger to replace his ailing father on the ballot, some Democratic leaders acknowledged their choice could backfire this fall if voters feel they were misled about John Stroger's health and his prospects for returning. The elder Stroger, 77, suffered a stroke the week before winning nomination to a fourth term in the March 21 primary against a strong challenge from Commissioner Forrest Claypool.
While the Stroger family kept his condition closely guarded, old-line Democrats plotted to rally around a successor from within their ranks, in part by promising what one longtime Democratic leader said was the age-old currency of "consideration" for future needs, such as jobs.
At the same time, independent and reform members of the party, who had rallied behind Claypool, amplified calls for cutting patronage-heavy payrolls and bloated budgets.
In the end, Democratic leaders met Tuesday in a crowded, stifling 3rd-floor room at the Hotel Allegro and handed Todd Stroger the nomination for the county's highest office--though he never had to face a voter to get it.
Before the vote, Stroger, 43, told committeemen of his background as a legislator and an alderman and said he has "a genuine passion for county government." He said he was "proud of the Stroger legacy" and has had a "long-term interest in county government that comes with being raised a Stroger."
But, he said, "I am my own person."
Despite Stroger's confidence in his ability to calm voter concerns, some Democratic leaders expressed unease about the possibility of losing a powerful County Board presidency last held by a Republican nearly four decades ago.
"That will be an issue Todd will have to address and hopefully everyone comes together," said John Daley, the County Board finance chairman. "It should be a very interesting election. I do not underestimate Tony Peraica."
Peraica, the Republican nominee for County Board president and a first-term county commissioner from Riverside, promptly challenged Stroger to at least three debates.
"Finally, the coronation of Todd Stroger took place today," Peraica said. "I think Ald. Todd Stroger exemplifies what's worst in our political system."
Stroger got 77 percent of the weighted vote of Democratic city and county suburban committeemen, defeating his lone challenger for the nomination, Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.), who got 23 percent.
Davis joined Stroger at a news conference after the vote and vowed to campaign vigorously for the new nominee.
Committeemen also nominated Ald. William Beavers (7th) to run for John Stroger's commissioner seat on the County Board. Beavers, an architect of Todd Stroger's ascension, wants his daughter and longtime chief of staff, Darcel Beavers, to replace him on the City Council.
Todd Stroger's strong vote totals belied some of the rifts within the Democratic Party over the replacement process.
Factional fighting developed between African-American political leaders on the South Side, represented by Stroger, and those on the West Side, represented by Davis and Commissioner Bobbie Steele, who took herself out of the running for the nomination on Monday.
Some North Shore Democrats also said the choice of Todd Stroger did little to promote their calls for reform.
Symbolizing the prospects of disunity, a typically perfunctory effort to make the vote for Stroger unanimous was blocked by state Sen. Don Harmon, the Democratic committeeman from liberal Oak Park. Harmon said he would support Stroger in the fall, but a unanimous vote would not be well-received in his township.
"While I agree that unanimity has its charm," Harmon said, "I think that informed dissent is important."
Claypool, who attended the vote, said the actions of party leaders could portend problems in November.
"The ward bosses are treating the leadership of a $3 billion government that's responsible for public health and safety as a family heirloom to be passed down from generation to generation. It's not right, and I think there's a lot of anger out there and I think that it could come back to haunt the Democrats in the fall."
State Sen. Jeff Schoenberg, the Democratic committeeman for Evanston Township, backed Davis' candidacy though he knew the vote was a foregone conclusion.
"It's like professional wrestling," Schoenberg said after voting ended. "You know who's going to win, and then they build the plot around it."
Unlike the anticipated outcome of Tuesday's meeting, no one is forecasting the result of the County Board's meeting on Wednesday. The 16 remaining commissioners will select an interim board president from among themselves to fill John Stroger's term, which expires Dec. 4.
The Cook County state's attorney's office has ruled that the winner must receive a majority of the votes of those casting ballots. If all 16 commissioners vote, the winner would need nine. However, if any commissioners are absent or choose to vote "present," the number of votes needed to win would be reduced.
At least five commissioners, Democrats Claypool, Steele, Earlean Collins and Joseph Mario Moreno and Republican Carl Hansen, are seeking the job. At least on a first ballot, the board's five Republicans are expected to vote for Hansen, a 32-year veteran who lost in the March primary.
Several Republicans have said that they would likely support Claypool in subsequent votes. They have sided with Claypool in the past few years in blocking taxes pushed by John Stroger.
Despite losing to Stroger in the primary, Claypool made a strong showing in the suburbs the Republican commissioners represent. Even with five Republican votes, his own and support from Mike Quigley (D-Chicago), an ally, Claypool would still need the support of two other Democrats.
Steele, backed by John Daley, appears to be the leading contender among the board's other Democrats, although she lacks the nine votes needed.
"As of right now, anything could happen," said Commissioner Gregg Goslin (R-Northfield). "You could have people who aren't being talked about being a compromise candidate. That's literally how up in the air it is."