Former Cook County Pres. John Stroger has died
Friday, January 18, 2008
Crain's Chicago Business
(AP) — John Stroger, who learned politics during the heyday of Chicago's Democratic machine and worked his way up to become the Cook County Board's first black president, has died at the age of 78, according to the office of a Cook County commissioner.
Stroger family members told the office of Cook County Commissioner John Daley that Stroger had died, Daley assistant Brian Hopkins said Friday.
It was not immediately clear when Stroger died, or the cause of death.
Stroger suffered a stroke just one week before winning the Democratic primary on March 21, 2006. He was eventually replaced in the post by his son, Chicago Alderman Todd Stroger.
"He dedicated his life to his family and gave generously of himself as an elected official," said a statement from his son, Todd, current Cook County board president. "His love for this county knew no bounds and he will be deeply missed."
After Stroger's stroke, weeks — then months — passed with Stroger's family providing little detail about the pace of his recovery.
Other leaders pressed for information and wrangled over who would replace Stroger if necessary.
Stroger's family announced in June 2006 that he would resign his post effective the next month.
His family and allies threw their support behind his son, Todd, who got the nod from Cook County Democrats to replace his father on the general election ballot despite a challenge from U.S. Rep. Danny Davis.
Todd Stroger was elected to the post in November 2006.
Cook County Commissioner Tony Peraica, one of Stroger's more vocal critics, said in a statement: "John and I didn't always agree on policy positions, but I respected him and his four decades of service to Cook County."
During the elder Stroger's tenure, the county replaced the 88-year-old Cook County Hospital with a $623 million new facility and named the new building after him.
When it opened in December 2002, John H. Stroger Jr. Hospital was one of Chicago's most expensive public works projects.
Stroger broke into Chicago politics under the tutelage of Democratic machine politician Ralph Metcalfe, an Olympic track star who appointed him an assistant precinct captain in Metcalfe's 3rd Ward political organization. His first government job was as auditor in the city's Municipal Court.
Stroger, having proved his loyalty to Mayor Richard J. Daley, was appointed a Democratic Party committeeman in 1968 and elected to the Cook County Board in 1970s, earning a law degree from DePaul University during the that time. He was serving as chairman of the finance committee when he was tapped to run for president in 1994.
During his tenure as president, Stroger steered the construction of a new county hospital and domestic violence court.
He was also credited with keeping open Provident Hospital, a once private institution on Chicago's South Side that is believed to be the site of the first open-heart surgery.
Despite the accomplishments, Stroger was frequently criticized for being an old-style machine politician and placing political supporters in key positions in county government.
They include the majority of the more than 100 people in his 8th Ward political organization and several of his relatives, which critics said contributed to a bloated $3 billion annual budget.
He often boasted of his ability to place his supporters on public payrolls — but said he never attempted to get a government job for anyone who wasn't qualified.
"If I brought anybody in and they didn't have the qualifications — just because they were part of the political organization — I would be cheating myself as president of the county board and the constituents," he once said.
Stroger also was known for his steadfast loyalty to fellow long-time party leaders, including current Mayor Richard M. Daley, who reciprocated whenever he campaigned for office.
That loyalty often placed him at odds with Chicago's black community, especially when independent black candidates like Harold Washington and Barack Obama challenged party-endorsed candidates.
Stroger was born in Helena, Ark., the oldest of four children of a domestic and a tailor, Stroger graduated from New Orleans' Xavier University in 1952 with a degree in business administration. He taught high school math at a Helena high school and became active in the Civil Rights movement, organizing voter-registration drives and advocating desegregation.
Stroger once said his activism at a time when Jim Crow laws were often enforced violently aroused the concern of his mother.
He recalled returning home one day at the end of the school year to find his mother had packed his clothes and arranged for him to move to Chicago with a family friend.
"And I said, 'I don't want to go to Chicago. I'm going to have a good team next year.' (She said), 'You may have a good team, but you won't have it here.'"
Stroger is survived by his wife, Yonnie, son Todd and daughter, Yonnie Clark.