The growing likelihood that Cook County Board President John Stroger will retire from office rather than run for re-election as the Democratic nominee is drawing increased attention from a number of local elected political officials.
The 76-year-old Stroger suffered a serious stroke less than a week before last March’s primary election, and continues to recover in the Chicago Rehabilitation Institute.
While there was some concern about the secretive nature of those close to Stroger regarding his medical condition since the stroke, things heated up quickly after Stroger’s son, Todd, Chicago’s 8th Ward alderman, recently stated that he’d like to take his father’s place. A number of African-American aldermen quickly lined up to announce their support.
But other officials, both black and white, say Stroger’s 43-year-old son, an alderman since 2001, doesn’t have the political heft to take his dad’s place.
Recently a number of officials contacted 7th District Congressman Danny K. Davis, who represents all of Oak Park and River Forest and most of Forest Park, to urge him to consider taking Stroger’s place on the November ballot. Among them are U.S. 4th District Rep. Luis Guitierrez, U.S. 3rd District Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., and 33rd Ward Alderman Dick Mell, the father-in-law of Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
Davis has said he isn’t seeking a new job, and that it’s his preference that Stroger recover enough to stand for election. However, he left the door open enough to encourage a phone campaign urging others to support him, according to media accounts.
State Rep. Karen Yarbrough (7th) said she spoke with Davis Thursday evening, and said she believes he could be swayed if there is adequate support.
“He told me he is interested,” said Yarbrough, who is also the Proviso Township committeeman.
She agrees with another local politician, state Sen. Don Harmon (39th), who also serves as the Oak Park Township committeeman. Harmon said Friday that it’s too early to make any decision.
“I would agree with Cong. Davis that it’s premature to act on a vacancy that does not exist,” he said. Harmon and Yarbrough are among the 30 Democratic suburban committeemen who would join Chicago’s 50 ward committeemen in choosing Stroger’s replacement in the event Stroger opted to resign.
Like Yarbrough, Harmon praised Davis’ character and qualifications, saying, “He would be a wonderful president of the county board.” Yarbrough said she believed Davis is “uniquely qualified” to serve as County Board president.
“He’d be a good candidate. He knows his way around,” she said.
Yarbrough is likely to play a key role in the selection of any Stroger replacement candidate. Due to a system of weighted votes based on Democratic totals, the committeemen of black wards, which had the heaviest turnout in the March primary, will control the selection of any Stroger replacement. And Yarbrough’s Proviso Township had the second largest turnout, behind Thorton Township.
Davis is comfortable in his role in Congress, where he has developed seniority over five terms. Besides seats on three House committees, including Education and the Workforce, Government Reform and Small Business, he is the ranking minority member on the Federal Workforce and Agency Organization Subcommittee.
However, before going to Congress in 1997, Davis served with Stroger for six years as a county commissioner from 1980 to 1986, then as a Chicago Alderman from 1986 to 1997. A former teacher, Davis has also dealt extensively with health care issues, a primary focus of county government. He has served as the director of training at the Martin L. King Neighborhood Health Center, and as executive director of the Westside Health Center before entering politics.
Any move by Davis would set off a game of political musical chairs.
“He did indicate to me, if in fact this is real, then his seat is in play,” Yarbrough said. “He mentioned that he’s gotten some calls.”
Whatever anyone else thinks or wants, Yarbrough said, nothing can go forward until Stroger makes a decision.
“It all depends on President Stroger and what he wants to see happen,” she said, adding, “We’re going to see in fairly short order.”