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Candor and trust

Thursday, June 21, 2007
Chicago Tribune

Did Todd Stroger, candidate for president of the Cook County Board, have an obligation last summer to tell voters he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer? In our view the answer is no -- unless, of course, he wanted the many citizens who had learned to doubt his word and his motives to begin trusting him.

The relevant history here reaches back farther, to March 2006. That's when Todd Stroger helped weave the web of lies by which the Democratic machine deceived voters. The pols hid the fact that a stroke had devastated his father, John Stroger. That greased the skids for Todd to take his dad's job. It was shabby exploitation of John Stroger by a party he helped build.

That serial dishonesty invited still more public distrust after Todd Stroger took office. Many citizens watched him cut health workers -- but not enough of the patronage hacks in his administration -- while larding the county payroll with even more of his friends and family members.

It's too soon to say with certainty that Todd Stroger will go down as an amateurish one-termer. But his choice of secrecy over candor reminds voters that ... it's all about him, not them.

That's his message to choose, and he chose it. Sure, this is an age of increased transparency for officeholders. But that has more to do with the niceties of politics than with the imperatives of Stroger's job. A Cook County Board president doesn't make split-second decisions or issue nuclear launch codes. A board president instead succeeds painstakingly, by building consensus. He's as strong as the public trust he earns.

Or doesn't.

Last summer, Stroger had a chance at a teaching moment. He could have spoken publicly about his encounter with a disease that strikes many men, African-Americans in particular. He could have talked about the treatment he would undergo. He could have explained his prognosis for a quick recovery and a long life. In sum, he could have frankly shared his predicament -- not to chum up to his fellow citizens but to highlight the lifesaving importance of medical screening. His handlers say he will do that now. But the moment for candor has passed. He squandered it.

Todd Stroger's health is in good hands. But he still suffers from anemic public trust. The treatment was obvious, the patient disinterested.

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