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Chicago Talks Exclusive: Interview with Todd Stroger

CT reporter Kelsey Duckett interviews Todd Stroger
Kelsey Duckett interviews Todd Stroger at the event (Photo: Thom Clark)

Cook County Board President Todd Stroger has spent the majority of his time over the last year clearing up what he considers misinformation about his platform and defending himself from what he said are daily attacks by the media, as well as attacks by his Democratic competition.

Stroger, who was elected as board president on Nov. 7, 2006, hasn’t been the most popular political figure in Chicago since he approved the penny-on-the-dollar sales tax hike in February 2008.

He has defended the tax since the 10-7 vote of approval by the Cook County Board of Commissioners, but has been criticized every step of the way.

“Everyone is talking about how they want to rollback the tax, but no one talked about how they are going to keep the government running,” he said. “No one said, ‘I am going to fill that $2 million hole with something else.’ They are offering no plans on how they are going to fill the void that would be created if they rollback the tax.”

Stroger said the Cook County budget hasn’t been increased during his time in office, and he said he has been forced to make difficult cuts. But he said rolling back the tax is a mistake.

“We have to look at this realistically and not just go for the emotional jolt that you can get from the newspapers when you say, ‘I am going to rollback taxes,’” he said.

It’s these same newspapers that Stroger said are being “biased and unfair” in their coverage of the race. He said he is “constantly being portrayed in a negative light.”

“The media has most definitely had me out in a negative light by saying sales tax, sales tax, sales tax,” he said. “They aren’t running the mayor’s face when he’s raising property taxes. They have treated me in a totally different fashion, and I am upset. They don’t have their facts straight on most issues; I work hard, and they only tell half the story.”

Stroger also said he is upset by the lack of support by the Democratic Party, specifically Mayor Richard M. Daley. He said there is no reason for the mayor not to “sign on in full support.”

“The mayor should say the county is running well,” Stroger said during the Jan. 9 debate, saying that county finances are in good shape. “If you look at the history of politics when an incumbent has done what I have done, which is balance the budget and make sure the services are intact, they have always endorsed the candidate for re-election.”

Defending and defining have become Stroger’s main objectives in this heated political race, and when asked about his plans if re-elected, he smiled, as if he hasn’t had the opportunity to answer this question in some time.

“We want to continue to bring new efficiency to the government,” he said. “I have put together a new committee that is working with an outside vendor to go into every department to find at least two percent of an efficiency rating out of their offices. Two percent doesn’t sound like a lot, but two percent out of $3 million is a lot of money.”

He said the biggest thing he will fight for is health care. He vows to make sure the “health care system stays intact.”

“Unfortunately it is always under attack, and part of it has been that the larger media doesn’t report the system as the safety net it is for people,” he said. “We need these clinics and hospitals to keep their doors open, and we need funding to provide them with the staff and equipment they need to provide the best treatment.”

The third point on his agenda is to continue to work towards reducing the jail population.

Stroger was clear in stating he has a solid agenda that has worked. He said there are no new ideas being put on the table by his competitors, and he is ready to serve the county for the next four years.

“When I look at county government in Chicago, I look at a government that is doing well,” he said. “We made significant changes during my first three years, and I am ready to get to work and continue to make positive changes for a better government in the next four years.”

Read Chicago Talks’ coverage of the Jan. 9 Cook County Board president candidates forum here.

Election websites of Stroger’s Democratic challengers:

Dorothy Brown, clerk of the Cook County Circuit Court

Terrence O’Brien, president of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District

Toni Preckwinkle, alderman from Chicago’s 4th Ward

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