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County Board's fleeting unity dissolves into shouting

Thursday, May 06, 2004
Chicago Sun-Times

They were moments that seemed too good to be true.

And they were.

Political foes on the Cook County Forest Preserve District Board came together on two issues Wednesday, but quickly fell apart, crumbling under the weight of finger-pointing, name-calling and charges of playing politics.

When the dust settled, efforts to shake up decades-old policies weren't completely discarded,but were put on a shelf.

Forrest Claypool had persuaded a majority of his colleagues to support a plan to appraise all district-owned houses, now being rented for less than $450 a month by district employees, many of whom hold political clout with board President John Stroger.

The appraisals would then be used to bring market-rate rent -- up to 10 times the rent now paid.

But when Claypool moved to push that plan to a final vote, that majority balked.

While most said they support the idea, they called for study.

Stroger, accusing Claypool of being "too obstinate," said "it would be unfair to the people who live there, the taxpayers and disrespectful to the leadership" to pass such a proposal without committee discussion.

"This is an Alice In Wonderland moment," Claypool said. "You say you want your staff to do it, but you won't allow them to start."

Stroger said the county "should evaluate the rents," but that it should be done in finance committee -- "it's just a fairness thing."

Just as quickly as that debate died down, another flared, and foes again came together, only to again quickly fall apart.

Mike Quigley proposed updating the district's land-use policy.

And while a majority of the board supported that idea, it was a war of words between Quigley and Stroger that shelved the plan.

Quigley said he sent Stroger the proposal Wednesday, but Stroger said that wasn't soon enough to get on the agenda.

It descended into shouting, with Quigley telling Stroger: "Just because you disagree with it doesn't allow you to be a tyrant."

But Stroger lashed back, lecturing adversaries as well as longtime ally John Daley, who co-sponsored both bills.

"A few of you guys want to go back to Harold Washington-[Edward] Vrdolyak days, and I'm not going to let you take me that way," Stroger said. "You keep double-talking and talking weird, but at least I've got some common sense."

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