Wednesday, July 19, 2006

President-Elect Steele and Comm. Collins: Candid Camera

Cook County Commissioner Bobbie Steele [D-Chicago] was elected President of the Cook County Board this morning. She will fill out the term of President John Stroger, whose resignation due to his stroke of March and continued related health problems, is effective July 31. That means Comm. Steele will serve as President from August 1 until December 4, 2006, when either current Cook County Commissioner Tony Peraica [R-Riverside] or Chicago 8th Ward Alderman Todd Stroger [D-Chicago] will take over as President, depending on the results of the November 7, 2006 election contest for the four year term of President of the Cook County Board.

As noted here, Commissioner Earlean Collins [D-Chicago], who has been the Sandra Day O’Connor swing vote of the Cook County Board on key votes for the last four years, was again the swing vote today. Going into the meeting, it was well known that for the first ballot, the five Republicans would support their 78 year old senior member, Carl Hansen, who lost his primary this March after 32 years on the Board. And, it was known that Commissioners Claypool and Quigley were supporting Claypool for President. Further, Commissioner Steele had Daley, Murphy, Maldonado, Butler, Sims and Suffredin in her corner. If none of the 16 Board Members in attendance [John Stroger is absent] voted present, the winner would require nine votes.

The word on the street was that Commissioner Collins and President Pro-Tem Mario Moreno [who casts his vote last at the meetings] were undecided, or at least uncommitted, going into this morning’s meeting. After Collins voted for Steele, it was clear Steele would have eight votes.

Although Moreno could have gone for Republican Hansen or reformer Claypool, throwing the election into a tie and thus a second ballot, with a possible compromise candidate emerging-- say John Daley—Mario Moreno wasn’t going to do that. Had Collins gone for Claypool or Hansen, then Moreno would have gone for Steele, throwing it into a second ballot. And, then the likely outcome became unclear.

Instability and uncertainty do not seem to be Commissioner Collins’ way. So she decided to support Commissioner Steele for President of the Board. I could have told you that last night, but why spoil the suspense. For another take on the election of President-Elect Steele, see here and for Steele’s statements that she neither concerned herself with back room dealing in this matter nor the impact of going from a $85,000 Commissioner's salary to a $170, 000 President's salary for four months on her pension, see here.

Candid comments by Cook County Board President-Elect Steele and Cook County Commissioner Collins:
Mary Ann Ahern [NBC-5 News]: In four months [as County Board President], what are you going to be able to do? Why bother?

Cook County Board President-Elect Bobbie Steele: Why bother? Because we need to make immediate changes and I feel we can make those changes in a short time.

Jeff Berkowitz [Public Affairs and Illinois Channel]: Will you consult with Todd Stroger about those changes.

Cook County Board President-Elect Bobbie Steele: [Looking quizzically at Berkowitz]: Consult with Todd? I think Todd should consult with me.

Jeff Berkowitz: Will you consider his views?

Another reporter interjects: Will you be able to work with him [Todd] when he takes over [Ed. Note: seems to be a bit of a presumption by this media member]?

Commissioner Bobbie Steele: Oh sure, I can work with anybody.
Commissioner Bobbie Steele: We are going to look at our staff and see what changes need to be made.

Jeff Berkowitz: Will there be a new Chief of Staff [in the President’s office] ?

Commissioner Bobbie Steele: It’s likely that there will be.
Bill Cameron [WLS Radio]: So, you can’t rule out a tax increase?

Commissioner Bobbie Steele: We are going to look at all of our options.
Scott Fornek [Sun-Times]: So, you are not closing the door on a tax increase? That’s a possibility?

Commissioner Bobbie Steele: No, I am not closing the door.
Andy Shaw [ABC-7 News]: Do you share the sense that there is a lot of wiggle room to cut before you even consider taxes?

Commissioner Bobbie Steele: There probably is. And, we’ll look at that.
Informal Press Conference, Cook County Board Room, July 19, 2007, after Commissioner Steele was elected President of the Cook County Board to fill the vacancy created by the resignation of President John Stroger, effective July 31, 2006.
Commissioner Bobbie Steele: We are faced with a fiscal challenge, but I think with the support of our Board and streamlining some of our departments and cutting where we have to cut, it’s going to take a lot of support to make those cuts and we need to make them, and I am willing to do it because its time that we act responsibly and its time that we recognize that the taxpayers pay our salaries, and we are not going to sit here and waste money for services that we don’t get. We owe it to them.
Jeff Berkowitz: Would you say that you would campaign hard for Todd Stroger [Democratic nominee for the Cook County Board President]?

Cook County Board President-Elect Bobbie Steele: Did I say that?

Jeff Berkowitz: I said, would you say that?

Cook County Board President-Elect Bobbie Steele: Well, you know, I must first of all take care of the people’s business here in Cook County, and if there is time and I can get out, I will. But, my greatest concern now is to take care of the business at hand.

Jeff Berkowitz: How do you feel about the shellacking that Cong. Danny Davis took yesterday.

Cook County Board President-Elect Bobbie Steele: The what?

Jeff Berkowitz: The shellacking?

Cook County Board President-Elect Bobbie Steele: I am not aware of the shellacking.

Jeff Berkowitz: 77% to 23% [in the vote by the Cook County Democratic Central Committee to pick the Democratic nominee for Cook County Board President to replace John Stroger on the general election ballot, Ald. Todd Stroger beat Cong. Danny Davis by that margin]. Is that a big blow to the West side of Chicago?

Cook County Board President-Elect Bobbie Steele: You know, I hope that people will soon stop thinking west side, south side. Cook County is a big tent and we have a north end of Cook County, a south end of Cook County and we have on the north side-- we have North Lake, Northfield, Skokie, so Cook County is inclusive of the north side, the west side, the south side, and the far south side: Worth, Bremen, all of those municipalities in Cook County, so we have to have a paradigm shift in thinking about Cook County…
Jeff Berkowitz: How do you feel about Tony Peraica?

Cook County Board President-Elect Bobbie Steele: I think he is a wonderful guy.

Jeff Berkowitz: Do you think you can work well with him over the next four months while he is running for President?

Cook County Board President-Elect Bobbie Steele: Oh, yes, yes, yes. I don’t think Tony and I will have any problems.
Informal discussion in Commissioner Steele’s office, July 19, 2006.
Jeff Berkowitz: The last three years you have kind of gone with the Gang of Eight and made it nine votes to block proposed tax increases by President John Stroger—

Commissioner Earlean Collins: I didn’t go with the Gang of Eight; I led the leadership fight of that budget. I was the leader of balancing that budget without tax increases. It started with me. I am the one who had the whole package and I corded it together and presented it to the President and all the members and included them in it, took their amendments that they had, and put together a unified effort to balance the budget- [but] I provided the leadership.

Jeff Berkowitz: Will you continue to provide that leadership this year?

Commissioner Earlean Collins: Absolutely, absolutely.

Jeff Berkowitz: Your intent is to see no tax increase as the Board deals with the Budget through the end of this year and into next year, is that right?

Commissioner Earlean Collins: Absolutely, absolutely, absolutely.

Jeff Berkowitz: All right.

Commissioner Earlean Collins: Unless we find, and I don’t think we will, that after getting rid of duplication of services, and after freezing the positions and the departments cutting their budget to only those critical essential services to our core mission and then we see where we are- and if you have done all of that, and you are satisfied that there is nothing else you can do, we must provide critical services, and whatever that is, we can look at that, but in an election year, it is going to be very difficult to get nine votes to raise any kind of taxes.

Jeff Berkowitz: So, you don’t foresee any kind of a tax increase.

Commissioner Earlean Collins: No, I don’t.
Informal interview outside of Commissioner Collins’ office, July 19, 2006.
For more on today's Cook County Board vote and presumably how the situation plays out in the future, watch WTTW's Chicago Tonight [Ch. 11 in the Chicago Metro area] this evening at 7:00 pm, or when it repeats at midnight, 1:30 am and 4:30 am. Carol Marin's panel is expected to include Cook County Board President-Elect Bobbie Steele; Tony Peraica, Cook County Commissioner [R-Riverside] and Republican Nominee for County Board President in the Fall election; Peraica's Democratic opponent in the Cook County Board President contest- Ald. Todd Stroger and Cook County Commissioner Forrest Claypool [D-Chicago].
Jeff Berkowitz, Show Host/Producer of "Public Affairs," and Executive Legal Recruiter doing legal search can be reached at