John Stroger was the first Black to sit in the seat of the county board Presidency. After Bobbie Steel became acting county board President, she was succeeded by John's son Todd. Unfortunately early this month Todd Stroger was defeated in his bid to be nominated to run for a second term as county board President. It looks like for now any potential dynasty is not going to continue.
"Black History Month means a lot to me," said Stroger, whose legendary father, the grandson of former slaves, rose from humble beginnings in rural Arkansas -- growing up in a three-room shack without electricity or indoor plumbing -- to the peak of political power.I said in another posting that I think with Todd greatness might have skipped a generation. Harsh words you think?
The elder Stroger put himself through college, worked for a while in the civil rights movement, then moved to Chicago and into Democratic Machine politics. He rose through the ranks, earned a law degree, and in 1970 won a Cook County Board commissioner's seat. It started a 24-year climb to his historic 1994 election as board chief.
"It was Bill Dawson begat Ralph Metcalfe, begat John Stroger, begat me," said his son, referring to his father's political mentors.
His father was drawn into politics after Dawson -- the third African American elected to Congress in the 20th century -- visited Little Rock, Ark., to urge blacks to help elect President Harry S Truman. When he moved to Chicago in 1953, he joined the 3rd Ward organization run by Metcalfe, who would later win Dawson's congressional seat.
"So we all learned from someone who was a great figure. In life, we need that mentor, somebody who will give you the skills you need to do certain things. But it's not just politics," Stroger said. "My dad taught me an awful lot. When I was young, he'd always say, 'You have to work twice as hard as everybody else, and even your friends are the people that you compete against.'
"He was a perfect mentor. He taught me perseverance. He didn't just fall out and all of a sudden he was the County Board president. He had to do a lot of things before he got there. He was really literally kind of turned away at the door when it was his chance, until he saw the opportunity and said, 'Well I'm not going to wait for them. I'm going to go through the door.' So I saw that in him, and learned from it."
I understand there those who believe that Todd should remain in there because the fiscal picture of county government wasn't in that bad of shape as is the city, state or even federal government. It's a significant accomplishment I suppose, but Todd may well have not been meant for politics at all.
Perhaps that sales tax hike didn't help him politically. It might have been good for the fiscal health of the county at least for a brief time. Of course when it passed you might have heard people groaning and talking about going outside of the county to do their shopping.
Perhaps he was how he got into his position. A week before the 2006 primary election John Stroger fell with a stroke. He was largely out of the public eye since that time and passed away in 2008. There was a scramble to figure out who may succeed John Stroger as the Democratic nominee for the county board presidency. Then suddenly Todd Stroger emerged as the eventually nominee and at that it was him over more experienced pols to take the job.
In 2006, Todd was only an Alderman on the city council. We rarely heard a peep out of him then. We hear more about him now since he was elected to lead one of the most populous counties in the nation! Before he was an Alderman he served as a State Representative in Springfield and hear barely a peep out of him there as well. In my mind he was only a backbencher with a record that doesn't indicate that he could handle the job of running a major county like Cook.
I don't know if I've ever said this, but I've only been a recent follow of what's going on at the County. I wish I could tell you my feel for John Stroger. All that can be said was that he was an old school politico and he may have more going for him than Todd had as a politician. Hence why I may say that for Todd greatness may well have skipped a generation.
All the same this reads more like a father's day piece than a Black History Month piece. And for that it's a plus for Todd!