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A powerful politician who helped the common people

Sunday, January 20, 2008
Chicago Sun-Times

Arkansas may have called itself the "Land of Opportunity" when John Stroger was growing up there, but "the first opportunity we got, we left," said Rep. Danny Davis, his eloquent friend and fellow Arkansan.

The three-room shack with no electricity and plumbing where Stroger grew up couldn't house his big dreams. From those humble beginnings, he went on to earn a law degree at DePaul. His strong personality and intense community and political loyalty propelled him to become the first African American elected Cook County Board president and one of the most powerful politicians in Illinois.

Stroger, who died Friday, was on the board for more than three decades and served as president from 1994 to 2006. He oversaw a $3 billion budget that served five million residents. His legacy includes building a county hospital to serve the poor, launching a domestic violence court on the Near West Side and improving the county's bond rating.

"He was a legendary public servant who made room in his politics for the common people," said the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who led the charge to name the new hospital after Stroger. "The people wanted it."

Stroger's critics said he built up a bloated patronage system, but Stroger had said he didn't hire "unqualified people." Stroger was remembered as "loyal to a T" and his powerful supporters included the late Mayor Richard J. Daley, his son Mayor Richard M. Daley and former President Bill Clinton.

"He never ever abandoned those persons who depended on him," his friend and Circuit Court Judge Arnette Hubbard told us. "That charisma stemmed from his genuine love for humanity."

He also was a man who loved to debate and tell stories, and he had a sharp sense of humor. "John would argue with a signpost," Davis said.

His compassion, loyalty and strength will be missed.



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