Tuesday, May 29, 2007

As a leader, Stroger can't hack it

Before I go to bed tonight, Carol Marin talks about Todd Stroger. He's been County Board President since December and ever since he's had to deal with a budget crisis at the county there's been nothing but bellyaching. First he had to consider cutting county police officers, hospital staff (doctors and nurses), even cutting hospital services. His other cuts are still causing belly aching.

I've always stated how I couldn't stand how things went into motion to get him elected. His ally Bill Beavers could suffer because of it. And I can say that he has suffered since he couldn't keep the 7th ward alderman's seat in the family.

So what does Carol Marin have to say about President Stroger...
Cook County Board President Todd Stroger announced Friday that his boyhood friend, cousin and college classmate, Ima Hack, has been appointed to the $150,000-a-year post as liaison to the 8th Ward. ''The 8th Ward is Todd Stroger's home base and therefore the beating heart of Cook County," read the press release from the president's office.
Stroger didn't make the announcement himself. His press liaison delivered the Hack news after receiving it from Stroger's new communications director, who first cleared it with the county's new liaison for protocol. This, of course, should not be confused with the protocol officer, another 8th Ward hanger-on, who it is believed, actually spoke to the County Board president.

A Stroger aide said the president would discuss the new county hire this weekend as he makes the rounds of Sunday services. That aide is Chinta Strausberg, the county's $95,000-a-year liaison to churches.

You say you didn't know the county had a liaison to churches? Happily, that is the only thing that is true in this tale thus far. But it's the gospel truth.

As Sun-Times reporters Steve Patterson and Eric Herman outlined on Thursday, Stroger has done it again. In the midst of a wrenching county fiscal crisis in which doctors, nurses, prosecutors and public defenders have been laid off and medical clinics closed, the County Board president keeps finding creative new ways to play with the payroll. A payroll that he generously pads with six-figure salaries for relatives, cronies and pals.

Though he reportedly wanted to dump Strausberg, who worked for Todd's dad, former County Board President John Stroger, she had too much clout to be cut loose. So Strausberg, who was the $110,000 county communications director who hardly ever communicated with anybody, still has a hefty if somewhat reduced salary, a big office and a new "liaison to churches" title. Whatever the heck that is.

Doesn't it seem like only yesterday that Strausberg was trying to bamboozle voters into believing John Stroger would recover from his pre-primary stroke to campaign in the 2006 general election? Instead, thanks to the cunning of county ward bosses, his alderman son inherited the keys to the kingdom. Loyal politicos gathered round to endorse him. Illinois senator and presidential candidate Barack Obama, a reformer if ever there was one, jumped on Todd's bandwagon, as did Sen. Dick Durbin and Mayor Daley.

What an enduringly proud moment for the Cook County Democratic Party.

We haven't really heard from those guys lately about Todd's performance or the Todd Squad that surrounds him since the election. Like his $142,820 chief financial officer-cousin, his $116,000 purchasing agent and best friend's wife, his $141,725 human resources director friend, and his $310,000 dad's doctor and hospital chief. All that bounty over at county, while poor women can't get appointments for mammograms.

The latest insult comes in the hiring of attorney Richard Velazquez. He has had a law license for exactly four years now and was hired to work in the public defender's office where, lord knows, they need him because 13 have been laid off and dozens more have been forced to take unpaid leave. But Velazquez? The politically connected young attorney has been specially assigned as Stroger's new personal legal eagle. Salary: $108,000 a year. What explains this budget bait-and-switch, according to Lance Tyson, Stroger's $162,000 chief of staff, is "we're not sure we're getting zealous representation" from the Cook County state's attorney's office, headed by Dick Devine, who also endorsed Stroger, an ally now turned foe thanks to the budget slashing of his prosecutors.

All of this has some independent-minded county commissioners outraged. "I think this is a hijacking of the county budget," said Commissioner Mike Quigley (D-Chicago).

Stroger made at least $20 million in budget changes without consulting the board. And Velazquez, Stroger's highly paid neophyte lawyer, offering no supporting evidence whatsoever, declared it legal, defending the president -- not the indigent.

Do you think that the Stroger administration will have a lot to answer for in 2008 or at least turn their fortunes around?

Good night.

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