Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Chicago at its best: nepotism

Chicago certainly does do nepotism best. The Cook County Board President race was a hotly contested one between Deomcrat elect Todd Stroger and Republican candidate Tony Periaca. Beyond being a race that could potentially bring in a new face into Cook County politics, it also created public discussion on the role of nepotism in politics.

Todd Stoger, son of the previous Cook County Board president John Stroger, was named as the Democratic Party’s nominee, after John Stroger won the primary race in March and later resigned. Opponents and alienated voters spoke out and criticized the manner in which offices are “inherited” by family members, a common practice in the Chicago and Cook County political scene.

Now, after Todd Stroger has won the general election, he has promised to clean up the budget deficit left behind by his father and his board. In light of the current debate on nepotism, Bobbie Steele, the interim board president has pushed for her seat as one of the Cook County Commissioner. Following the trend and to make the situation humorous, another board member has said that she wants to maintain her seat until her 12 year-old son is ready to take over.

Indeed, Chicago does do it best. At nepotism that is.

Stroger vows big changes
Cook County Board chief says there'll be no more sacred cows

By Mickey CiokajloTribune staff reporter
Published December 5, 2006

New Cook County Board President Todd Stroger promised "dramatic change" and said there would be "no more sacred cows" as he took office Monday and immediately turned his attention toward tackling a $500 million budget deficit.

"We will transform this government into a more modern, more efficient operation," Stroger said.

"To get there, the transitions will be tough, the sacrifices painful, the dramatic change worth it."

Although the county's new budget year started Friday, Stroger said it would likely take three months to pass the 2007 spending plan as he works with board members to close the gap without raising taxes.

Stroger, 43, takes over the $3 billion government that his father, John, led for nearly 12 years until he retired in July after suffering a stroke. Interim board President Bobbie Steele finished the final four months of John Stroger's term.

While Todd Stroger acknowledged his father's legacy, he made clear in his comments that the "old time" government and its "sluggish culture" had to change. Stroger said the budget deficit was the "cumulative result of difficult decisions being too long deferred."Worse yet, we inherit a climate of public mistrust and a culture that too readily settles for good enough instead of demanding the best.

"Commissioner John Daley (D-Chicago), chairman of the board's Finance Committee, called Stroger's budget challenge "grueling" but reiterated that Stroger vowed not to raise taxes."It's going to be very hard," Daley said. "I think we have to give him time.

"It remained unclear on Monday whether Stroger, as president, has a right to vote with the commissioners. John Stroger had been both board president and an elected commissioner; Todd Stroger was elected president, but did not run for a commissioner's seat.

Todd Stroger said Monday that he would not try to cast votes even though Burton Odelson, his campaign lawyer, argued that state law gives him that power.

Daley, however, said Stroger is not entitled to vote, and that the board will debate rules on Wednesday that should make that clear.Serving in John Stroger's old commissioner seat representing portions of the South Side and south suburbs will be former Chicago Ald. William Beavers (7th), one of two new commissioners sworn in Monday. The other was Republican Timothy Schneider, who beat longtime board member Carl Hansen in the March Republican primary to represent the northwest suburbs.

On Tuesday, committeemen in Steele's district will meet to name her replacement following her retirement last week. Steele has recommended they appoint her son, Robert, an administrator with the Chicago Park District.Bobbie Steele, who doubled her pension by serving as president for four months, told reporters Monday that she has offered Stroger to work as a consultant for $1 in any capacity that he might need.

While some have criticized Stroger and Steele for participating in the long Chicago tradition of political nepotism, the issue provided some of Monday's lighter moments.

Republican Commissioner Elizabeth Gorman of Orland Park said she intended to keep her seat warm until her 12-year-old son, Conor, could take over.

In brief remarks, Conor said he looked forward to working with the board. Giving a thumbs-up, he concluded, "Congratulations, Mr. President. And here's to our parents."


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