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Embattled Stroger's leaves office with 'some bitterness'
COUNTY BOARD | 'Some bitterness' but not a sore loser

Thursday, December 02, 2010
Chicago Sun-Times
by Lisa Donovan

Cook County Board President Todd Stroger described his single term in office as a battle — with his political foes and the news media — and that he leaves feeling “some bitterness.”

In what is expected to be one of his final official acts in office, Stroger presided over the county’s regular board meeting Wednesday and said that despite all the negative publicity he received, he believes he did “some good things.” His top accomplishment, he said, was championing an unpopular penny-on-the-dollar sales tax hike that most political observers say cost him his job.

“It kept the government running, and without that money, we would have to shut some doors,” Stroger told reporters after the meeting. He earlier said the hike kept the doors open at county-funded health clinics and hospitals that serve the poor and uninsured.

Democratic Commissioner Deborah Sims, a Stroger ally, agreed that Stroger “took a bullet that nobody else was willing to take. . . . And I still say if we had not done that we  would have been in a lot worse shape.’’

In one of the meeting’s more bizarre moments, Stroger lauded his cousin and one-time Chief Financial Officer Donna Dunnings  for being the muscle behind so many of his successes. He lamented she was a casualty in the barrage of criticism in newspaper and television news accounts. Yet it was Stroger who fired her in 2009 over a patronage scandal in which a former steakhouse busboy got a county job and was quickly promoted to become a $61,000-a-year highway worker. Dunnings twice bailed him out of jail while he was on the county payroll.

“I’d like to give her a lot of credit for the success we had,” he said, as Dunnings sat in the audience — and openly wept.

Stroger rose up through the 8th Ward Democratic political organization his father, John Stroger, built and ran. His very first job was working in the Illinois Secretary of State’s Office. He later became a state lawmaker and a city alderman, winning both posts with his father’s help.

He took over the board in 2006, after his father, running for re-election as Cook County Board President, suffered a catastrophic stroke on the eve of the primary. Todd Stroger’s candidacy for the president’s post was bolstered by  Democratic powerhouse families including the Daleys and Madigans.

But while Todd Stroger sailed to victory then, he recounted Wednesday that he walked in to a budget crisis and a group of reporters out to get him.

He pushed the sales tax hike, and then balked at rolling it back even in the run-up to a tough February primary in his re-election attempt. The Democratic powerhouses that initially backed him were nowhere to be found. He finished last in a four-way race.

While he blames his own media affairs operation, he also blames the press for legitimizing his foes’ every criticism.

“Yes, there is some bitterness about how things are portrayed,” he said.

But flashing a smile, Stroger said he isn’t a sore loser: “I don’t always expect to win everything. This is the first election I’ve lost,” Stroger said.

After he leaves office, he plans to do some “consulting work.” He’s also interested in becoming an insurance agent.

Will the 47-year-old return someday to politics?

“I’ll go out in the real world, make some money and then I’ll decide,” he said.

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