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Stroger recalls bad old days in board revolt

Thursday, December 04, 2003
Chicago Tribune
by Mickey Ciokajlo

Facing the biggest challenge to his authority in his nine-year reign as Cook County Board president, John Stroger on Wednesday invoked the memory of the racially polarizing "Council Wars" era of Chicago politics as he ripped into board critics who are trying to block tax proposals he is pushing.

Stroger's proposed .25 percent county sales tax increase and new 4 percent lease tax are up for a vote Tuesday as part of his 2004 budget. In attacking those who oppose the financing scheme, Stroger noted that some of his constituents have questioned whether white insurgent commissioners "are trying to bring back a Harold Washington/Vrdolyak attitude at the County Board."

The reference is to Chicago's first black mayor, Washington, and his chief political opponent, then-Ald. Edward Vrdolyak, who is white and who led a bloc of white aldermen to thwart many of Washington's initiatives in his early years in office in the 1980s. Like Washington, Stroger is African-American.

Stroger, who made his comments during a Forest Preserve District meeting, stressed that he hadn't drawn such a conclusion about the County Board. In fact, he said he has told constituents who've raised the question--"and I don't mean black communities only"--that the analogy does not fit.

"I have been out telling people that is not the case, we just got a group of young people coming in and they are reacting ..." Stroger said. "But I can't continuously say that."

Stroger argued that Cook County has one of the best-run county governments in the country, "but three or four of you who come in and just want to destroy everything."

Stroger's comments came after Commissioner Forrest Claypool, a leading insurgent against Stroger's tax proposals, sought to have next week's Forest Preserve District meeting postponed. Commissioners are scheduled to vote on the nearly $3 billion county budget on Tuesday and then on the much smaller Forest Preserve budget a day later.

Claypool, along with Commissioners Mike Quigley and Larry Suffredin--all Democrats like Stroger--said a short delay between budget votes would give the public and commissioners more time to focus on the forest district budget, which they say is being lost in the shadow of the much larger county budget.

Claypool, who was a paid consultant to Washington's 1987 campaign, said Stroger's use of Washington's name was ironic because the late mayor believed strongly in robust public debate. Claypool called the back-to-back votes a "cynical attempt" to divert attention from the budget of the forest district, which he believes is top-heavy with managers with political ties.

Quigley, who in the 1980s was an aide to Bernard Hansen, then an alderman with Vrdolyak, noted that Stroger backed Richard M. Daley in 1983 when the current mayor lost to Washington.

Quigley said "Council Wars" was marked by an acrimonious spirit in which politicians were often trying to seize "power for power's sake."

"Having been through both, this is nothing," Quigley said. "They called that `Beirut on the lake.' This is Disney on the lake in comparison."

Also Wednesday, commissioners approved a five-year fee structure for the Forest Preserve District's golf courses, which are now privately managed.

The new fees vary by course, ranging from a low of $24 for 18 holes in 2004 on a weekend or holiday at Burnham Woods, up $2 from this year. George Dunne National in Oak Forest remains the district's most expensive course at $48 for 18 holes on a weekend or holiday, which is no change from 2003, although the rate will increase to $52 in 2008.

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