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Stroger no champion of the have-nots

Wednesday, May 20, 2009
by Phil Kadner

T odd Stroger is right. There is a battle between the haves and have-nots in Cook County.

But the fact is that the haves support the have-nots with their tax money. They fund Stroger Hospital, named after Todd's father. They finance the court system, the highway department, the sheriff's department, the county jail and provide the paychecks for the patronage system.

County Commissioner John Daley (D-Chicago), the son of Hizzoner and brother of Richard II, understands what's going on.

Something has changed. Times are tough. People are losing their jobs and their homes. The haves may still have something, but not as much as they did a year ago.

And tomorrow, they may be among the have-nots.

So Daley was among the 12 commissioners who voted May 5 to rescind the sales tax increase that was imposed last summer and that Stroger claims the county needs to fund its programs.

And on Tuesday, he was one of 11 voting to override Stroger's veto of the county board's attempt to roll back the 1-percentage-point tax hike. That was three short of the votes needed to override the veto.

This is all about politics and the 2010 county election, Daley suggested, and he was right. But I'm not sure Stroger understood, although he has said the same thing.

Politics is not all bad, although people sometimes use the word as if it had only four letters.

The reason you have elections every four years is so people, taxpayers, can change the government if they don't like the way things are going.

Candidates can criticize the existing government and make the case for throwing the incumbents out of office. The incumbents can explain why they're better qualified to do the job.

Stroger has spent four years proving he doesn't have a clue about politics or taxes or public appeal.

You can't hire a restaurant bus boy with a felony conviction record on the one hand and claim you've done everything you can to balance the budget on the other.

You can't claim your cousin, whom you made the county's chief financial officer, is indispensible one day and the next day fire her for bailing your bus boy out of jail.

That's the sort of thing that makes the taxpayers question whether they can trust you with their tax dollars.

Stroger doesn't get it. Never has. Never will.

That's because has has always lived among the haves. He has clout. He has power. He has influence. He's connected. He's gotten political jobs handed to him all his life.

The have-nots are not only those without money but those without influence.

Stroger thinks people in the northwest, west and southwest suburbs should support Cook County because it is the right thing to do. He implies they only want to dismantle the county government now because it helps the poor, who are mostly minority.

I would respond that these white suburban people have spent billions supporting county programs over decades. And they are willing to continue spending billions if only Stroger would show them some respect by proving the money is spent wisely.

Commissioner Deborah Sims (D-Chicago), whose district also includes some of the poorest south suburbs, voted Tuesday to uphold Stroger's veto. She rejected arguments that the sales tax is hurting businesses in Cook County. Sims said her community has no businesses.

That is an exaggeration. But there are many areas in Sims' district that have few stores.

What she fails to understand is that the tax structure of Illinois and Cook County make it nearly impossible for small shop owners to stay in business in poorer neighborhoods.

Property and sales taxes, fees, and, yes, the cost of political corruption and crime, drive them out of business. It makes new merchants think twice about opening stores.

All Sims should do is look across the border of her district to Northwest Indiana, and she would see plenty of new stores.

Yet, a few miles away in Park Forest, Ford Heights, Chicago Heights, there's almost nothing.

Why? My guess is Sims has never asked the question.

Her have-not communities have even less today because of politicians like her and Stroger.

There are real problems with controlling the cost of county government. But no one trusts Stroger when he tells them that story.

Who gets hurt each time Stroger's credibility is damaged? The have-nots. The people who voted for Stroger.

Ironically, the same people hit hardest by that county sales tax increase to 1.75 percent. The same people who will put quarters into legalized video poker games. The same poor jokers who spend $1 on a lottery ticket hoping to get rich.

Elected leaders, such as Stroger, have betrayed both the haves and the have-nots.

What's left is a government in crisis.

The politically connected win. But everyone else loses.

Phil Kadner can be reached at or (708) 633-6787.

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