The most misunderstood man in Cook County politics?
That’s what Todd Stroger, president of the Cook County Board of Commissioners, says he is, and he blames big media in Chicago.
The daily press, Stroger insisted, relies on his critics on the board for news and analysis, thus reporting incorrect information. That, in turn, has distorted his tenure in the public eye – a crucial twist with the race for county board president starting to heat up.
“There’s plenty of people who feel I’m doing a good job, and then there’s plenty of people who read the newspapers and don’t know what’s going on in the county, because they don’t report what the county does,” Stroger said during a recent interview at his downtown office with Austin Weekly News staff. “When we have a story about what is happening with the county dollar today, we can’t get that in the paper so people don’t know what’s going on.”
The county board, once a relatively sleepy bureaucracy, has transformed into what Stroger himself called “show time.” His critics on the board have decried Stroger’s successful push for a 1-percent increase in the county share of local sales taxes. They’ve also condemned his hiring decisions and questioned his leadership.
Many of those critics – whom Stroger called “obstacles” – are leaving the board or looking to leave and are just using county government as a platform for advancement, he charges.
“Commissioner Quigley, he ran for Congress and won. Commissioner Claypool, he ran for the presidency and lost but now he’s gone,” Stroger said. “Commissioner Sufferdin ran for state’s attorney and lost. Commissioner Peraica ran for everything and lost. Those are your vocal commissioners. The first train they found, they tried to get on, and get out of here. It’s just politics.”
Stroger was elected to his current position three years ago, beating Republican candidate Tony Peraica. He was slated for the seat after his father, John Stroger, the incumbent board president, suffered a stroke. The elder Stroger was first elected president in 1994; he died in 2008.
His 46-year-old son had served in the Illinois House and as alderman of Chicago’s 8th Ward, the family’s historic power base. Todd Stroger worked in banking and is a graduate of Xavier University in New Orleans. He’s married, with a 9-year-old and a 5-year-old at home.
In spite of the slings and arrows, Stroger believes his record stands on its own. Payroll, measured by headcount, is down 10 percent since 2007, he said. New technologies implemented over time will improve efficiencies, he promised. County government, Stroger added, is not staring down the staggering deficits as many governments, including Chicago’s.
“We went through that already. We made our corrections. We’re not going to have that problem. And we’re not like the state,” he said.
The race for county board president is widely expected to be one of the hardest fought and closest watched during the next election cycle. Stroger planning to spend at least $2 million on his reelection bid. He thinks black voters in his core Chicago neighborhoods will vote him back into office.
“I found the base – the South Side and the West Side – may not always be happy about paying a tax, but if it goes toward something they think is a good cause, they’re for it,” he said, acknowledging a tough road to reelection.
“There won’t be a bigger underdog than Todd Stroger in this election,” he said, referring to himself in third-person “It’s impossible.”