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Monday, September 25, 2006

County needs fixing, not another Stroger

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

Concerned about the impoverished, alienated and Godforsaken among the 5 million residents of Cook County? Then pay particular attention to who gets elected in November to be president of the Cook County Board.

That's because perhaps no single person or institution directly touches so many of the dispossessed, especially when it comes to health care. Too poor to afford even the most basic medical services, they rely on the county's three hospitals and its 25 outpatient ambulatory and community health network facilities for emergency, primary, acute, outpatient, rehabilitative, long-term and preventive care.

Coordinated care for expectant mothers, clinics and health education in elementary and high schools, family-planning services, CT scans and other diagnostic services, lead-poisoning prevention, treatment of childhood diseases, the nation's first free-standing, specialized outpatient health-care facility serving the needs of people with HIV/AIDS, more than 150,000 health service visits in suburban Cook County ... the list goes on and on.

The county also touches those caught up in the criminal justice system by providing legal counsel for the indigent. The county's public guardian protects abused children, and its court system is in the front lines defending those held captive in dangerous neighborhoods. It is a conservator of open space and the environment.

This is the progressive agenda, one deserving of support. The best way to do so is to make sure the apparatus that delivers these services is efficient and productive. It isn't.

A felon was hired to oversee finances. Too many lazy, incompetent and no-show employees staff the health-care and other facilities. Workers are hired for their political connections, not for their competence. Just last week, the feds raided the offices of the Cook County Human Resources Department and carried away boxes of personnel records. It's the county version of Chicago's political spoils system. Progressives now face a choice for Cook County Board president. They can ill serve the poor by fundamentally continuing the system under the direction of Democrat Todd Stroger, the Chicago alderman who is himself a progeny of the system. Or they can better serve the most needy by supporting suburban Republican Tony Peraica.

If you don't believe these are the choices, go to the Chicago Tribune's videotaped endorsement interview with the two candidates at chicagotribune.com/county.

In this valuable, unvarnished setting, if you can't tell which candidate has the moxie, creativity, experience and leadership to pull off reform, then you're hopeless. What's clear is that Stroger is caught in the bind of having to defend or reject the work of his own father, former President John Stroger. Not to his credit, Todd Stroger wants it both ways: He insisted that he understands county government, having been immersed in it since his father was elected Cook County commissioner in 1970.

Yet he strains credibility by trying to act as the reformer who would undo the very political system his father built.

Peraica called such a system "criminal" when it makes emergency room patients wait up to two days to see a doctor, two weeks to get a prescription filled and six months to get an MRI. Stroger did not dispute those figures.

Here it is, just over two months before the election, and all that Stroger could offer were platitudes and promise more studies. Peraica, who demonstrated substantially greater understanding of county government, offered specifics. Stroger made a lame--to the point of embarrassment--attempt to appeal to his base by bringing up such hot social issues as abortion and gun control. Peraica successfully parried by pointing out that the County Board could do little on either score and clarifying his own position as a sensible moderate.

Stroger's political strategy is to take progressives for granted, to assume that, witless and sheeplike, they'll fall in line with the party bosses who crowned him the candidate. Stroger's strategy leaves voters with no answer to the question of how the 5 million county residents best fulfill their moral obligation to assist the most needy. Stroger's strategy is to assume that progressives will find voting for a Republican too distasteful to contemplate. That progressives will buy the stereotype that Republicans are coldhearted ogres who don't care about the poor.

Perhaps few progressives will have read this far, but in their hearts, they know what is best for the disadvantaged. A government run efficiently to serve its people, not a clanking, obsolete machine dedicated to serving its builders.

Copyright © 2006, Chicago Tribune

8 comments:

Stephen Schade said...

Mr. Byrne:

Tony Peraica is not good for Cook County. He is weak on gay and women's rights, for one thing. Like most conservatives, he opposes government's involvement in health care. Instead of fixing the system's problems, he is more likely to dismantle it.

There is no problem with hiring ex-felons. Once a person pays his debt to society, he deserves a second chance.

I too was disappointed in the selection of Todd Stronger to replace his father on the ballot. However, he is not unqualified, nor will I hold his father's sins against him. Nevertheless, I intend to write in the name of someone who is better for the job.

What we need to do is change the system for replacing someone who withdraws from a race. When the winner pulls out, the runner-up should automatically become the nominee. Letting party organizations make the decision has yielded Todd Stronger and Alan Keyes in recent years. Surely we can do better.

Martin Berg said...

I rarely agree with Dennis Byrne, but I do this time. I am one of those progressives who did read to the end of the column, and Peraica is the only alternative to the Stroger dynasty [people who propose meaningless write-ins are the spiritual siblings of the people responsible for electing GWBush--the Ralph Nader voters of 2000]. Unlike the starry-eyed Mr. Schade, I submit that Stroger IS unqualified, and that one MUST hold his father's sins against him. Hiding the severity of John Stroger's condition from the electorate was an unforgivable, undemocratic disgrace.

Yes, we can do better, but we only have two realistic choices. I don't agree with Peraica on a number of things, but he has one unbeatable quality: his last name isn't Stroger. The family has not served the County well, and their influence needs to be exorcised. I'm a Democrat, but I'm voting for Peraica.

Anonymous said...

I agree heartily with Martin Berg's post. and like him I am (so-called by Mr. Byrne) a progressive. Moreover, I am a progressive who has become progressively tired of the absurd way that politics as usual is being shoved down the electorates' throats in Illinois, Cook County, AND in the city.

Nowhere have I read anything about Todd Stroger's CONVICTIONS, much less his opinions. I'm tired of the black/white argument, which is just as disengenuous now as it was in the sad aftermath of Harold Washinton's unexpected demise, and the ugly political manuevering that took place in his wake. What a sad display that was.

I too am a Democrat, but I also will vote for Peraica, even though I know I should have the opportunity to vote for Forrest Claypool running as the Democratic candidate for Cook County President. The Democratic party in Cook County is looking more and more like the Mayor in the last Presidential election: completely out of touch with the electorate. Remember, Mayor Daley never endorsed John Kerry for President and the city voted for him anyway in a landslide. What will the Machine do if registered Democrats repeat this exercise in the November election for the County Board, and vote overwhelmingly for a REPUBLICAN candidate??

Terry Williams said...

Not only is Peraica no good for Cook County, his highly touted "experience" consists of the four years he spent on the County Board and that's it! How many of you actually realize that much of the County's operations are funded through state and federal grants and other intergovernmental transfers? How much does Peraica know about that? How does Peraica propose to deal with rising government costs while promising to hold the line on end-user services? Now while his supporters say "we'll cut the 'waste'", that will at best only be enough to balance the budget for a year. What will be next are service cuts, those that he has continually promised he will not make - but the mathematics are against him.

Finally, for those who think that his position on gays and abortion doesn't matter, since they are "state and federal issues", consider the following two items: 1) The Gay Games were held here last year with the County drafting a resolution supporting the Games. Peraica voted yes initially, then reversed his stance. 2) The County does provide reproductive services, including abortion, but only by executive order. This means that the stroke of a pen could rescind the executive order now in place. Who believes that Peraica would not leap at the opportunity to do just that? Despite Byrne's efforts to cast Peraica as a "moderate", Peraica is just as far to the right as Byrne is, and both are out of touch with the majority of County voters.

Anonymous said...

Your article"County needs fixing not another Stroger" was right on the money-Inspite all of the allegations,and reports over the years and now the federal government investigation,the Democratic Party,led by Mayor Daley and subserviant ward committeemen smply ignore the problems. Even our ward committee man and state senator appeared at our civic league meeting and gave a lukewarm explanation of why they indorsed John stroger Jr. Don't these people read the newspapers or watch TV? I hesitate tomention the names of these officials because other wise the are doing an excellent job in the ward. Maybe it's just practical politics,but I don't believe any one at the meeting bought this explanation
Mr. Peraica alsp appeared before the civic league several weeks ago and made an oustanding presentationabout the problems at the County Board and outlined steps that he would take to eliminate them.
He seems to be the only one who is troubled about all the waste and and corruption at the county board-He really impressed everyone a the meeting and received a standing ovation-Hopefully when the time comes they will all support him on election day,even though the ward is almost 100% Democratic. One would think that Forest Claypool, who is well aware of the problems at the County Board,if he was really serious about cleaning up the mess, would do the right thing and support Mr. Paraica.

Stephen Schade said...

Yes, Ralph Nader did cost Al Gore both Florida and New Hampshire in 2000. Based on the primary result, however, my guess is that Forrest Claypool as a write-in candidate would pull far more votes than Nader and make it a three-way race. Moreover, since a number of Dems seem inclined to vote for Peraica, Claypool would be taking votes from Peraica, not Stroger.

Contrary to Byrne's assertion, the county does have a lot to say about abortion and gun control. The board could vote the stop paying for abortions for poor women. It could also decide to rescind gun control laws.

There is also the problem of how well Peraica could work with a Democratic board. Certainly we do not need legislative gridlock.

Ricky Nonlib said...

I hope Stephen Schade is wrong when he says

'It could also decide to rescind gun control laws'

not that I'm against rescinding gun control laws, but I hope the county commissioner doesn't have that kind of power.

Stephen Schade said...

Last year Cook County passed a law banning all gun shops within one-quarter mile of schools and parks. This is the type of law that the board could repeal.