Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Todd Stroger on the ballot: A good day for the Machine?

He may have the voice of God and his voice may be that of the establishment wing of the Democratic progressive movement in Chicago, Cook County and Illinois, but today, Cong. Danny Davis [D-Chicago, 7th CD] did not have the winning voice. Not even close.

Cong. Davis is well credentialed, both experientially [as he boasted] and academically [more degrees than you can shake a fist at], and he is an eloquent speaker and tireless worker to advance Democratic Progressive causes. But, Danny boy, as the Irish might call him, this is hardball politics, Chicago style. Thus, Ald. Todd Stroger, not Cong. Davis, will replace Todd’s father, John Stroger, on the ballot, as the Democratic Nominee for Cook County Board President. And, Cong. Davis said some nice words about Todd Stroger and his support for him, just before Todd Stroger’s post victory press conference. A gracious loser was Cong. Davis.

If the choice between Ald. Stroger and Cong. Davis was made based on the eloquence of the speech today, clearly it would have been Cong. Davis. If you were a recruiter, and you had specs for the job in terms of government experience and knowledge of the issues, you would take Cong. Davis’ Cook County Board, City Council and Congressional experience over Todd Stroger’s years as an obscure State Rep. and alderman. If you interviewed the two, and chose based on the substance of the interview, no doubt you would choose Cong. Davis. This would be the case notwithstanding Davis’ dalliance in recent years with Rev. Moon.

However, as Archie Bunker once noted when he lost a job promotion even though he had gone back to school to earn his GED, Congressman Danny Davis [D-Chicago] should perhaps have spent more time studying Einstein’s Theory of Relativity as opposed to getting post graduate degrees and certificates in education and public administration. Similarly, Commissioner Bobbie Steele noted the other day when she withdrew from the race to replace John Stroger on the ballot that her father was a farmer [not a County Board President].

The determining and indeed only real factor in today’s decision, as everyone knew it would be, was that Alderman Todd Stroger is the son of John Stroger, who has been on the Cook County Board for more than three decades, President of the County Board for a decade and a part of the Democratic Party Machine forever.

Democratic Ward and Township committeemen, i.e., Democratic party bosses who make up the Cook County Democratic Central Committee, voted early this afternoon 77”% to 23% to replace John Stroger by putting his son, Ald. Todd Stroger, on the ballot as the Democratic Nominee for Cook County Board President.

As one political media personality said to me as we entered the Hotel Allegro, the scene of the crime, this morning, “How can you argue with 35 years.” I had asked the wag if he thought there could be any surprises today, and his answer was pure Politics 101. He wasn’t saying, of course, what he thought should or shouldn’t be the case. Just what is.

The wag, no doubt, was referring not just to Stroger’s three decades plus of experience and title as a County Commissioner, topped off as President of the County Board for more than the last decade. No, of greater importance than John Stroger’s formal toils in Cook County government was the fact that John, the Father, has devoted his entire political career to going along with the Democratic Party Machine, even if it meant African-American John Stroger voting like a black Irishman, if there are such.

John Stroger was there for the machine when it asked him to support the machine’s white candidate Richard M. Daley over black reformer and icon Harold Washington for Mayor of Chicago. John Stroger was there for the Chicago Democratic Machine when it asked him to support white Dan Hynes over African-American Barack Obama.

Further, Dan Hynes was the lackluster, white, son of 19th Ward political powerhouse Tom Hynes—and Dan was running for the U. S. Senate in the 2004 Democratic Primary. Obama, of course, was the first African-American President of the Harvard Law Review and is now likely to be the first African-American President of the United States. Obama, at the time, was a U. S. Senate Democratic Primary Candidate and of course he went on to beat his closest competitor, Dan Hynes, 53 to 24 %, in a seven candidate field. In short, Hynes, by any measure, was not competitive, in any way, with Obama. Yet, John Stroger, continued to vote like a southside Irishman, not a southside African-American.

Not supporting Harold Washington and Barack Obama were just a few of the many times that John Stroger played the machine game, as opposed to following his heritage, or even just the reform movement. I don’t say this to denigrate John Stroger, but to illustrate just how strong John Stroger’s allegiance was to the Chicago Democratic Party Machine.

When you give the Party that kind of loyalty, it has to be rewarded. Almost every pol in the room at the Hotel Allegro knew that, even those who voted their hearts and souls for Cong. Danny Davis. Further, it is not really a matter of the Party delivering justice for John Stroger or even Todd. No, it is a matter of rewarding party loyalty. It you don’t reward that behavior, the machine crumbles. And, then what?

Well, then the whole patronage, jobs, contracts for friends process collapses. That is, the no-bid, friend of the President contracts, the patronage jobs and all that bloat and inefficiency that Democrat Commissioners Forrest Claypool and Mike Quigley and Republican Commissioner Tony Peraica rail against might be removed. And all the other relationships, ties, deals and bonds that unite those within the Chicago Democratic Party Machine could be jeopardized.

That’s one reason why 11th Ward Committeeman [and Cook County Board Finance Committee Chairman and brother of Mayor Daley] John Daley and 14th Ward Committeeman [and City of Chicago Finance Committee Chairman] Ald. Ed. Burke, Ald. Beavers [who himself was placed on the ballot this afternoon, without opposition, to replace John Stroger, as the 4th Dist. Democratic nominee for the County Board], State Rep. Lou Lang [D-Skokie], Ald. Dorothy Tillman, Ald. Lyle [who gave the speech of her life and the best speech of the day, as noted by Chicago Tonight’s Rich Samuels], Ald. Natarus, Ald. Solis, and Ald. Brookins, just to name a few of the disparate supporters of Todd, sat there, some speaking for Todd, some not, but all looking pretty happy as today’s events unfolded.

No, the Democratic Party pols weren’t going to abandon the concept of party loyalty, not today.

But, there, at the Hotel Allegro on Randolph in the Loop, to begin hammering away at the newly minted Democratic candidate for Cook County Board President was Cook County Commissioner Tony Peraica, the Republican Nominee for Cook County Board President. He held a presser before Todd’s, which followed the vote. And, after that, in a class act, Tony walked over to Todd and congratulated him on his nomination.

I asked new candidate for President of the County Board, Todd Stroger, after his presser, how many debates he would do, and he brushed me off with the comment, “I will discuss that with Tony Peraica, not You.” Must have been something I said. Or wrote.

I asked Tony Peraica how many debates he wanted, and he surprised me by saying three. I would have thought more. Peraica’s Communications Director, Bill Pascoe, was quick to correct his candidate, saying, “at least three.”

So, let the games and the debates begin. It’s Peraica v. Stroger. Just like we thought last March. Only it’s Todd in to sub for his father, John. Like Father, like Son? We’ll see.

Quick to poll, Chicago Tribune columnist and blogger Eric Zorn is already asking his readers how they will choose between Tony and Todd. Zorn is trying to figure out if progressives and other independent Democrats, who account for large numbers of the 46.5% who voted for Democratic Reform Cook County Commissioner Forrest Claypool in the County Board President primary, will jump ship and vote for Tony Peraica [See here].

Those who follow Cook County politics and policy, and this blog, will know that the Gang of Four [Democratic Commissioners Claypool, Quigley and Suffredin and Republican Commissioner Tony Peraica] joined with the four other Republicans on the Board and Democrat swing vote Earlean Collins to block three Stroger tax increases over the last three years. It was an unusual coalition and winning Gang of Nine on the key economic issue of the County Board. [See here]

Could the Gang of Four stay intact sufficiently to elect Peraica? Not in the pure form. That is, Claypool, Quigley and Suffredin are not ready to bolt their party and support fellow reformer Peraica. First things first, they are all true blue Democrats.

Quigley has said he would support any Democrat over Peraica. Claypool has said he is a Democrat and will remain one. That leaves room for Claypool not to endorse either Todd or Tony, and to turn his supporters free, so to speak. Quigley, notwithstanding his stronger comments to the contrary, might come around and copy Claypool, at least in terms of how he handles the Todd- Tony choice.

The above discussed actions of Claypool and Quigley could help push Democratic voters to Peraica. Moreover, Claypool and Quigley might tacitly encourage a closet revolt within the Democrat Party to support Peraica. A Todd Stroger loss could help Claypool-Quigley solidify their power within the Democratic Party.

On the other hand, a Todd Stroger win, despite lukewarm support from Claypool and Quigley, might mean that they would go no higher than County Board in their political careers and the machine might even find a credible primary opponent for each in 2010.

If you are going to shoot at the King, even if at night, you had best hit your target.

What do you think? Go here and cast your vote for Todd or Tony.
Jeff Berkowitz, Show Host/Producer of "Public Affairs," and Executive Legal Recruiter doing legal search can be reached at JBCG@aol.com