Todd Stroger Doesn’t Like Them Poll Numbers

From the Sun-Times:

Embattled Cook County Board President Todd Stroger blasted a new poll showing he’s in third place in the four-way race for his job.

A Tribune poll of what has been described as 500-plus likely voters shows Cook County Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown leading the pack in next month’s Democratic primary with 29 percent of the vote followed by Chicago Ald. Toni Preckwinkle (4th) at 20 percent. Stroger is next with 14 percent and Metropolitan Water Reclamation District President Terrence O’Brien garnered just 11 percent.

“I think it is inaccurate,” Stroger told the Sun-Times today.

“I’ve been here for three years. The Tribune has been trying to sink me for all three years. So I can have a balanced budget when everybody else is struggling, I can keep the hospital system open. I can help 25,000 people change their mortgages and keep their homes, but that’s not good enough,” Stroger said, using an all-too-familiar refrain about how the media is biased in its coverage of him.

Well, that’s one way to handle bad numbers: deny they exist.

Unless Stroger pulls a George W. Bush and fixes the election, I don’t see him surviving the primary.  He certainly does not have my vote. I’m leaning toward Dorothy Brown right now.

I’m looking forward to writing about “former Cook County Board President Todd Stroger.”

Todd Stroger Doesn’t Have Time to Ask for Your Vote

Look, we’ve spent plenty of time over the last several years critiquing Cook County Board President Todd Stroger.

Let’s make sure we remember that when it’s time to go to the polls.

From the Chicago Tribune:

Cook County Board president Todd Stroger took some heat for not attending today’s Democratic forum among candidates vying for the job of heading the county.

The candidates in attendance were Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown, Chicago Ald. Toni Preckwinkle, 4th, and Metropolitan Water Reclamation District President Terrence O’Brien.

A representative for Stoger said the county board president was not at the forum because of a conflict of interest that prevented him from attending.

The video above is courtesy WGN.

According to WGN, Stroger did say he would be there, but had a “conflict of interest” that prevented him from appearing.

I am not ready to make an endorsement yet, but I know I will not vote for Todd Stroger.

Rep. Danny Davis Goes Overboard Filing for Office

Look: Decide what office you want to run for, and go for it.

Don’t play games with the voters, like Danny Davis.

From the Southtown Star:

U.S. Rep. Danny Davis has officially filed paperwork for two positions in the February primary election, saying he’s still unsure which race he’ll pursue.

The Chicago Democrat today submitted his petition for re-election to his 7th congressional district post. Last week, he submitted a petition for Cook County board president.

Davis has until next Monday to drop out of one of the races.

Is Rep. Davis confused? We know how this is going to end. Rep. Davis will drop out of the race for Cook County board president, and run for and be re-elected to Congress.

Someone else must defeat Todd Stroger.

And Todd Stroger must be defeated.

For the good of Cook County.

Sun-Times: Todd Stroger Will Promote You If You Give Him Money

All patronage in Chicago and everywhere else in government must cease.  Now.  No excuses.  No Loopholes.  No exceptions.

The latest from the Chicago Sun-Times about wannabe wunderkind Todd Stroger:

Patronage workers with the Cook County Forest Preserve District are seeing more green these days — in their paychecks.

With people everywhere facing tough financial times, the 28 forest preserve patronage workers who’ve been on the payroll since 2006 all got hefty raises in the following two years, an analysis by the Chicago Sun-Times and the Better Government Association has found. They’re among 38 forest preserve workers who are exempt from the Shakman court order that bans political hiring in city and county government.

On average, the exempt employees were paid $98,071 last year. Nine of them saw their salaries increase 19 percent or more between 2006 and 2008.

Most of the Shakman-exempt employees — 24 in all — have contributed to the campaign funds of Cook County Board President Todd Stroger; his late father, former board President John Stroger; or the 8th Ward Regular Democratic Organization that John Stroger controlled.

The Strogers and the party organization have gotten a total of $49,870 in campaign contributions from the exempt employees since the mid-1990s. The biggest contributor: Deputy Comptroller Alvin Lee ($12,100), followed by district police chief Richard Waszak ($8,050).

That’s their right, says district spokesman Steve Mayberry, who says Todd Stroger never has solicited forest preserve employees for campaign cash.

“It is the First Amendment right of all private citizens … to make political contributions to whomever they please,” says Mayberry, himself a Shakman-exempt employee who has given $3,905 to Stroger organizations.

So this is a First Amendment issue?  Let me exercise my First Amendment rights: This is an abuse. It smells bad because it is bad.

A friend in Chicago tells me if you work for the city, you vote Democratic.  If you don’t vote Democratic, you won’t work for the city for long.

This has to stop.

Sorry, but I do not consider many Chicago Democrats to be true Democrats.  They are people doing favors for a select group with public money.  And that’s wrong.

My friends who defend Todd Stroger will tell me, “That’s just the way it is.  You don’t understand how things work.”

No, I don’t understand.  Patronage makes for extremely expensive government.  It’s a horribly inefficient way to run any governmental body.

And it must stop.

I strongly urge the State Legislature to close these loopholes that allow for “Shakman-exempt employees.”

Peraica Tweets and Stroger Sounds Like Twit

Everyone has suddenly discovered Twitter.  The Inland Press Association recently profiled some journalists who are using the social networking site to tell the world what they’re doing, 140 characters at a time.

Pols are “tweeting” as well.  During President Obama’s address to Congress, many Republicans were caught tweeting, some sounding intelligent, some juvenile.

LOL.

Well, Cook County Commissioner Tony Peraica has discovered Twitter also.  With a bit more than 600 followers as of right now, according to the Sun-Times, Tony has taken up Twitter, tweeting from County Board meetings.

Last month, Peraica started posting short messages — called “tweets” — during board meetings about everything from contract votes and political bickering to his opinions and wisecracks in 140 characters or less.

With a few strokes of the keyboard, he’s part legislator, part reporter and part talk-show host.

“I think it’s important to keep the public informed about what’s going on with the board as it happens,” Peraica said. “This is a wonderful technology that enables us to keep in touch with 600 to 700 people who care about what happens at the meeting.”

Tweet away, Tony.  Tweet away.

What struck me about this particular account of Tony Tweeting was Cook County Board President Todd Stroger’s response:

“I think it’s strange,” Stroger said. “It doesn’t sound kosher. He probably shouldn’t be typing while we’re doing business. Maybe that’s why he can’t remember how he voted on things two weeks ago.”

Doesn’t sound kosher, Todd?  Really?  Kosher?

Talk about your bad blood.  This just sounds silly.

We get it that the two of you don’t get along, but can’t you disagree on issues without being so disagreeable with each other?

Todd Stroger loses this round.  Who cares if Tony Peraica fires off 15 (the count at the last meeting) short sentences into cyberspace during a County Board meeting?  Who cares if any other commissioner tweets?  If 600 or more Cook County residents care enough to read, then that’s enough.  Why use the occasion to take a cheap shot at a colleague?

Cook County residents need a board that functions.

Talk about issues, and stop these juvenile digs.  Or Tweets.

Claypool v. Stroger – It’s On

If there was any doubt that Cook County Commissioner Forrest Claypool was planning on challenging Cook County Board President Todd Stroger in the 2010 Democratic Primary, let there be no doubt: It’s on.

Claypool was “all over” WLS-890 (AM)) radio Tuesday morning, according to the Sun-Times, criticizing Stroger’s 2009 budget proposal — a document Stroger has yet to release to the public.  At 10 a.m., Stroger called in to Mancow’s show to confront Claypool.  What followed was a fiery exchange:

Stroger said his ears were burning more than when my friends are messing with me,” Muller said. “He seemed like a man who couldn’t take it anymore. I’m not a huge fan of his politics, but I have to commend the guy for walking into the lion’s den.”

What followed was the first unofficial broadcast debate between Stroger and Claypool 14 months before their highly anticipated — but not yet confirmed — showdown for board presidency in the 2010 Democratic primary.

According to the Sun-Times, the two shouted over each other “as if voters were headed to the polls any day now.”

Claypool attacked Stroger’s plan to borrow millions to pay for “normal operating expenses” — payments to self-insurance and pension funds — after raising taxes to record levels just six months ago. He called it a move to “cover up” Stroger’s management mistakes until the next election.

Stroger struck back with venom: “Either you didn’t read the budget or you don’t understand government.” Stroger went on to suggest Claypool is nothing more than a do-nothing politician seeking higher office.

Ah, wonderful irony of Todd Stroger calling another elected official a “do-nothing politician.”  Of course, none of this public shouting and  juvenile name-calling speaks well for either board official.  As we make our way further into the murky waters of the Bush Recession, we need elected officials who inspire confidence.

Well, we’re 14 months out from this primary election, and I’m ready.  I hope you are as well.  Cook County residents deserve smart government.  Submitting a secret draft budget riddled with bad math only intensifies our doubts about county government.

Todd Stroger Wants Your Money

We’ve long realized that spending in Cook County is out of control.  Perhaps I would personally have more confidence in President Stroger if he had made a better entrance on a public elevator instead of insisting on a personal elevator.

We know we’re in recession that’s likely to get worse before it gets better, but Stroger is fooling himself that his a budget that borrows $740 million in bond issues is free of additional taxes.  Bonds need to be paid somehow.  Where’s the new sustained revenue stream in the budget to pay the debt service on these bonds?

Some wise voices on the board agree:

“There’s an economic crisis just short of the Depression, so for us to suggest that nothing’s changed and it’s OK to borrow our way through this problem is foolhardy,” Commissioner Mike Quigley said.

“This is a re-election budget for Todd Stroger,” Commissioner Forrest Claypool said. “It is designed to give him hundreds of millions of dollars of borrowed money to get through the elections and then after the election, [there will be] tax increase No. 2 from Stroger because that money has to be paid back.”

Stroger has other ideas, claiming his budget demonstrates a continued “pathway of reform, efficiency and modernization.”

But Stroger refused to release the proposed budget in its entirety.  That’s a huge mistake from a public relations standpoint, but characteristic of Stroger’s much-less-than-transparent style of governing.

I’d love to see what Commissioner Forrest Claypool saw when he read the first draft of Stroger’s Not-Ready-For-Prime-Time budget. Mark Konkol has the story:

“I’ve never seen a government that put out a budget so chock full of errors, inaccuracy and misinformation. I don’t even think they know their own financial picture,” Commissioner Forrest Claypool said. “It shows remarkable ineptness and is symbolic of general mismanagement of county government that taxpayers pay a heavy price for.”

On Wednesday, Stroger’s staff “demanded” some commissioners return the error-riddled copies while corrected versions are being made.

According to Konkol, the errors in the budget amount to very, very bad math:

The biggest problem with the budget document was in calculating the difference between 2009 budget line items and the 2008 spending plan. The 2009 proposed funding levels were subtracted from what individual departments requested rather than last year’s appropriation.

Cook County residents deserve much, much better.  I hope voters who were so hungry for change will remember the call to the polls when primary season rolls around again.

Cook County desperately needs change.

My money is on Forrest Claypool.  I hope he considers another run.

And Stroger needs to release his draft budget now so we can all have a look.  Maybe we can help him with his math.

Todd Stroger thinks he’s Oprah Winfrey

Just when I thought I had heard it all, Todd Stroger reaches new levels of hubris.

Cook County Board President Todd Stroger is “forcing anyone who works under him to sign a confidentiality agreement — promising they won’t disclose anything he deems ‘confidential’ that they ‘learned, disclosed or observed’ while on the job,” according to the Chicago Sun-Times. Stroger’s edict extends beyond employment with Cook County government:

They must also promise never to disclose information after they leave their job.

Not even Mayor Daley requires such obedience from his employees and those familiar with Gov. Blagojevich’s operations don’t believe he does, either. But Stroger is making those closest to him — department heads, bureau chiefs and anyone working in his PR operation — sign it.

Anyone working in his PR operation? Yes, this is great PR, Todd.

Stroger promised to make Cook County government more transparent. This move certainly muddies the waters.

Oprah Winfrey makes employees sign lifelong confidentiality agreements:

Oprah has successfully intercepted revelations by insisting that everyone who works at Harpo sign an unusual lifelong confidentiality agreement. “You wouldn’t say it’s harsh if you were in the tabloids all the time,” Oprah says in her defense.

I’ll give Oprah her confidentiality agreement because, well, she’s Oprah. While I may tire of her self-indulgent escapades like her road trip with best friend Gayle when she learns how to pump gas and drive in a car by herself — surrounded by cameras, of course — Oprah has done enough philanthropic work for several lifetimes. And she keeps giving.

But Todd Stroger? Todd, you’re no Oprah Winfrey. In fact, Todd, I’d wager that what you’re doing is not even legal, and I would encourage Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan to take a good, hard look at this confidentiality agreement for possible violations of the Freedom of Information Act. Madigan speaks about the Freedom of Information Act and the Open Meetings Act on her Web site:

Both of these laws are intended to foster government accountability and increase the public’s ability to participate fully in government. However, FOIA and OMA are only effective when citizens, the media and public officials understand their rights and obligations under these laws.

Individual governmental bodies cannot be permitted to judge for themselves what the public gets to know. There must be oversight and review on this matter, and this nonsense must stop.

It’s not the PR, Todd

Sometimes I think I could turn this entire blog over to a critique of the Cook County Board and nothing else.

Most of the commissioners are fine people who I respect — Democrat and Republican. While I disagree strongly with Tony Peraica’s conservative social agenda, for example, I have a great deal of respect for his verbal calls for honesty in government. While I don’t quite understand their commitment to Board President Todd Stroger, Commissioners Joan Patricia Murphy and Deborah Sims work hard for those of us in the south suburbs of Chicagoland.

And Forrest Claypool? Well, here’s to what might have been.

President Stroger, your problem is not PR.

When I read earlier this week in the Sun-Times that Todd Stroger was “set to bring on a p.r. consultant, records show, to help improve his image and that of the hospital system he runs,” I just about choked. Of course, I’m not the only one who took notice. From the article:

“Of the multitude of problems facing the health bureau, p.r. is the least of them,” said Jay Stewart of the Better Government Association. “President Stroger should save the money, no matter how difficult that may be for the administration, and let the independent board decide how to use the money on things like actual health care services.”

Stroger already has people who are working the public relations angle:

Stroger’s p.r. staff is larger than that of many other county governments across the country, records show, but it’s hardly the most expensive.

Cook County Assessor Jim Houlihan’s communications chief, Lucio Guerrero, makes more than $120,000, though he said he’s also in charge of about a dozen people, heading up outreach and research.

Stroger’s top p.r. staffer, Mullins, is budgeted to be paid $105,059 — and Stroger still employs all of his former spokesmen in other, comparably salaried positions.

“The need for yet another p.r. consultant or staffer for President Stroger is ridiculous,” Stewart said.

Honestly, now, Todd, do you really think your problem is a decided lack of public relations? You do remember shortly after you swore your oath to “support the Constitution of the United States, and the Constitution of the State of Illinois, and that I will faithfully discharge the duties of the office of Cook County Board President to the best of my ability,” you roped off an elevator for your own private use.

Sir, with all due respect, the problem is not a lack of p.r. It’s you.

I’m going to remind you of the 10 tips the Sun-Times offered you at the beginning of the month:

1. Please, don’t hire anybody in your family to fill the job.

2. Nope, not even a cousin.

3. A childhood friend? See above.

4. A national search for the new inspector general does mean looking outside your political home base of the 8th Ward.

5. Ask yourself: “What would my political mentor, Bill ‘The Hog with the Big Nuts’ Beavers, do?” Then do the opposite.

6. Let the inspector hire his or her own staff. Don’t view the 12 new jobs as a political dumping ground.

7. Hire someone familiar with corruption. Familiar, that is, with investigating and prosecuting it, not committing it.

8. The new inspector general will not require the services of a private chauffeur, as do some political big shots. Or a private elevator.

9. Do not brag to taxpayers that the new inspector general is coming in at a bargain salary, then give the new hire a double-digit raise within a year. For reference, see the Chicago Sun-Times, March 24, “Todd’s Cousin Cashes In.”

10. Follow the lead of Mayor Daley. He hired a first-rate inspector general for the city, David Hoffman, a former federal prosecutor. Hoffman’s smart, independent, experienced and beholden to no one. He drives Daley nuts. But he’s a friend to taxpayers.

For too long, county government has been a cesspool of patronage. You see, Todd, that’s what we’re looking at: individuals who take advantage of the tax payers by setting aside privileges for themselves and people they favor. That’s what it’s really all about. Just stop doing that.

Forget the p.r. binge. Just stop all of that and govern. Good p.r. will follow good actions.

Come on, Todd, Get Serious

I freely admit I was wrong in supporting Todd Stroger for President of Cook County Board. I believed friends locally who told me that Todd would do a great job. I believed them when they told me Todd was good for Cook County, and cared about Cook County residents.

I was suspicious when they insisted that Todd meant well, even after he insisted on a personal elevator in the County Building downtown. I’m not going to throw in, “What was he thinking???”, to paraphrase Blago-the-Destroyer’s campaign line.

Well, here’s the rub: Cousin: Stroger ready to tax again. Thank you to our friends at the Chicago Sun-Times for that wonderful headline. What does that mean? It means that Todd’s cousin, Donna Dunnings, who “took one for the team” and accepted the powerful CFO job with Cook County at a respectable salary, then accepted a 12% pay hike, proclaimed in a speech to the City Club of Chicago, “the county has bigger problems that need even more taxes to tackle.”

Well, that’s just sweet.

“The structural deficit is real and the sales tax is by no means an answer to that,” she said.

So, the county is going to turn to “cost containment,” according to Dunnings, and turn to “other revenues” to make ends meet.

“Other revenues”??? Translation: The Cook County Board will find a new and creative way to tax all of us.

Here is one important fact to remember: Our businesses are already being choked out of the suburbs, running to Will County in the south suburbs. Do Todd Stroger or Donna Dunnings really care about that?

I know some of the logic behind Cook County’s absurd tax structure that makes it so desirable for businesses to run to other counties. Something about business owners who commute from other suburbs to help pay for the infrastructure of Cook County, or something strange like that. Thus, the equalizer.

Look, Todd, and, for that matter, the rest of the Cook County Board: Sit down and act in concert. It’s that simple. We need the Cook County Board to stop blaming each other and act, yes, as a Board. Act in the best interest of the people of Cook County. Help those of us in the suburbs retain our businesses. Stop acting as if the borders of Cook County stop at the borders of the City of Chicago. Stop the patronage politics. We can’t afford it any more. You can’t honestly expect us to believe that the best person for the position of CFO of Cook County happened to be Todd Stroger’s cousin, Donna Dunnings.

Hold each other accountable on the board. Accountability in government is good.

And the rest of us will be incredibly more circumspect in future elections. In fact, those of us who stayed home last election day might show up next time and cast our votes.

Because, yes, we were wrong.