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Monday, November 13, 2006

Stroger victory proves it: Weak voters elect weak leaders

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

What if U.S. Atty. Patrick Fitzgerald had run for Cook County Board president against Todd Stroger? My money says that Fitzgerald, the most successful reformer to hit town since Ft. Dearborn was erected, would have lost. Just like Tony Peraica lost to Stroger. Maybe even worse.

Last week, Cook County voters demonstrated that they would tolerate anything short of a sharp stick in the eye. Some of us had hoped that voters this time, at last, for once in our lives, would opt for honest, efficient, clean and open government. That was in the mistaken belief that voters would not put up with Stroger's stunning lack of qualifications and the secretive and presumptuous way he was selected to run by party bosses. We were wrong.

In the commenting business, it is bad form to question voters' judgments. Post-election is the time to be gracious, to wish the winner luck, to issue calls for cooperation, to nod affirmatively that the "people have spoken" and that we should give the winner, no matter how much of a mope, a "chance." To do otherwise is considered sour grapes, the sign of an arrogant, poor loser.

But sometimes voters need to be told when they screwed up. Such as when they selected two disciples of quackmeister Lyndon LaRouche in the 1986 Illinois Democratic primary for lieutenant governor and secretary of state.

In a way, Stroger's election is worse. Unlike the ignorant voters who marked their ballots for the two LaRouchies without having the slightest idea who they were, Stroger voters knew exactly what they were getting: a county government so poorly run and moth-eaten by political opportunists that its two-year budget deficit approaches a staggering $600 million.

And they knew exactly what they were voting against: honest, efficient government.

The bulk of those self-interested voters was obviously committed to the old way. They ask "not what you can do for your county, but what your county can do for you."

They were joined by single-issue social liberals who could not put aside their blinders, even once, to vote for the better candidate. Add to that African-American voters who, as stubbornly as the Deep South racists of Jim Crow, refuse to put aside racial identities.

Nowhere does it say that democracy is infallible; that voters don't make mistakes. We've been constantly reminded of that by Democrats who say that President Bush was the biggest mistake voters ever made.

"OK, OK," you say. "You've made your point. Why not just let it rest?" Because the values, standards and mind-set of the electorate are important. An electorate that tolerates corruption will get corruption. One that puts up with incompetence, in pursuit of narrow self-interest, will get government that swims in muck. To bash public officials without criticizing the people who installed them is hypocrisy.

Next up is the Chicago mayoral campaign. I use the word "campaign" lightly.

Now with U.S. Reps. Jesse Jackson Jr. and Luis Gutierrez overnight deciding not to run against Mayor Richard Daley, the heat is off. Apparently they figured they could do more about Chicago's waste, fraud and abuse from the heights of Capitol Hill. Two lesser-known candidates remain, but one can only assume they'll carve up what little opposition will remain against the mayor.

Some independents may have taken hope that organized labor was stepping up to support anti-Daley aldermen, but they're going to need a lot of extra help, now that the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce brazenly has decided to take the side of waste, fraud and abuse by assembling big bucks to defeat anyone who strays from the drove.

After countless indictments and convictions by Fitzgerald, a majority of the electorate appears, with the election of Todd Stroger (and the re-election of Gov. Rod Blagojevich), ready to countenance more of the same.

One would have hoped that Fitzgerald's exposure of the depth of the graft would have convinced more voters of the need for change.

With a majority of voters not persuaded, Fitzgerald's value narrows but remains no less important: taking on the organization, one grafter at a time, putting away or scaring enough of them to at least reduce their inventory.

Without Fitzgerald, absolutely nothing would stand in the way of waste, fraud and abuse. Certainly not the electorate.

Copyright © 2006, Chicago Tribune


Anonymous said...

Anyone involved in politics for a while knows voter ignorance to be his strongest ally. Democracy means nothing when people don't care, know nothing about candidates and issues, or vote due to race, gender, or simply based on who is the most physically attractive.

This time, while they're being taxes out of their homes, livings and businesses, voters retained the (miserable) status quo which has drained their wallets for years, because they allowed themselves to be swayed by issues which have little or nothing to do with county government: aborion, gay rights and assault weapons, all of which are state and federal issues.

When (oh, WHEN???) will we enact laws requiring a simple civics test before allowing people to vote to impose a government upon us, when they don't even know what that government's function is?

Anonymous said...

Well, Mr. Byrne, you have hit several nails on the head. I recently moved back to Chicago from out of state, and although it has always been a city of favors and corruption, the flaunting of those behaviors has rarely been so blatant. And the determination of the black population to vote for anyone black and only anyone black is truly insulting to the people of all races who worked to get black minority "rights" assured. Chicago really needs to wake up and help Mr. Fitzgerald, or this city will sink to the level of some of the formerly successful eastern cities - does anyone really want to live in Wasington, D.C. or Pittsburg?

Anonymous said...

Dear sir I am a Southsider,and I live in Todds strogger's ward.,and I am in full agreement with you.In Illinois idealogy is less important than lining ones pocket,with tax dollars.If the people can put aside their political positions,long enough,maybe we could rid government of these sewer rats.

Adam said...

Well, considering that the trib endorsed Bush for his relection run in 04 despite his first 4 years of incompetence, corruption etc... It's a bit silly to see you complain about cook county's mess.

Maybe if Patrick Fitzgerald can dismantle the patronage machines (and vote turnout monsters) in Chicago, then Stroger might lose one day. But until that happens, I don't think Daley, Stroger or any other machine candidate/puppet has too much too worry about.

I would've rather had Claypool. Oh and don't blame the voters (especially in a perfect storm election for democrats (what self respecting american would vote for the party of Bush?), blame all the machine hacks who voted in Stroger to replace his dad.

After all, elections are there's for the stealing.

Anonymous said...

"Next up is the Chicago mayoral campaign. I use the word "campaign" lightly." Well you have overestimated the campaigns of U.S. Reps. Jesse Jackson Jr. and Luis Gutierrez . What is so interesting is your lack of knowledge of Chicago neighborhoods the county election show that some media people promoted these non-candidate to be mayor. William Walls is the people choice for mayor in 2007. Walls is the only person working to expose the corruption of the Daley/hdo//hired truck/ Administrtion.

Anonymous said...

Do us all a favor Byrne, keep your nose out of Chicago politics. You live in the suburbs, so concentrate on suburban politics. We don't need some suburbanite telling us how to do things.

There's plenty of dirty goings-on in DuPage to keep you plenty busy with your inane crap.

Stephen Schade said...

Mr. Byrne:

As Lincoln said, "You cannot fool all the people all the time." If Todd Stroger fails to do the job, he will eventually suffer the same fate as the GOP did this year.

I would also like to add a note about the $600 million county deficit. Health care accounts for a large fraction of government expenditures at the federal, state, and county levels. Each year it is going up far faster than tax revenues. No matter how well a government is run, health care keeps digging the budget into a deeper hole. The only solution here is nationalized health care. Why not offer it some support?

Anonymous said...

Go get your shinebox buddy. The Trib has no credit in this metro area when it comes to endorsing candidates, so your words ring hollow when that's your medium. I almost puked when I read the pro-Peraica/pro-Topinka "editorial" (read: attack article) last week. Go punch a pillow or something, get that anger out in a more constructive way.

brie said...

Firstly, although I agree with some of your points, Tony Peracia didn't exactly run the most organized campaign.

I volunteered to poll watch for him, and it took me three phone calls and finally a trip to the election-eve rally to get credentials. On Election Day, at nearly 10am they called me to say, "Oh, we hear you're interested in volunteering;" I had already been down in the 6th Ward for a couple hours. I also received the credentials I'd requested nearly a month in advance in my mail on Election Day.

So voter apathy, lack of education, and, as you seem to believe, stupidity weren't the only factors. The Peracia campaign was in an uphill battle without a clear opponent for months. However, they did not capitalize on all the resources presented to them, including a large number of Claypool Dems and unhappy Southsiders.

As a final note, given your annoyance at Chicago interference with suburban elections, I'm surprised you chose to comment on the Chicago mayoral race.

Sig said...

While reading your post, I was reminded of the famous Bertolt Brecht's poem written in the aftermath of the East German uprising of 1953:
"The solution
After the uprising of 17 June
The Secretary of the Writers' Union
Had leaflets distributed in the Stalinallee
Stating that the People
Had forfeited the confidence of the government
And could win it back only
By redoubled efforts. Would it not be easier
In that case for the government
To dissolve the people
And elect another?"

Mr. Byrne, has it occurred to you that the voters of Cook County were required to choose between the lesser of two, well, lesser, and they chose the less threatening according to their system of values –which is, obviously, not yours? Do you think that the voters did not know about Peraica's ties to Betty Loren-Maltese and her counsel Ed Vrdolyak, two of the most corrupt politicians in Illinois? Do you think the voters did not know about Peraica's involvement in the "Hired Truck Scandal."
Do you think the voters of Cook County would have elected a radical social conservative, like yourself? The voters made a choice between corruption and social counterrevolution. Those choices could've been better, but many times we…ahem… vote in the elections with the choices we have, not with the ones we'd like to have. Wink.

Sean Lowry said...

I live in the far southwest part of the city called Beverly. It's a place where there's so much political connectedness from one house to the next that you're afraid to bring up the graft,waste, and all around corruption because you'll find yourself mired in character assasination at every turn, compliments of the Jeremiah Joyce school of who's your daddy.

The county became the new dumping ground for all those street soldiers past and present when Shakman showed his teeth. Daley is very shrewd and will continue to push all his underlings to use whatever means necessary to win the prize. Whatever prize it is on any given day. A beautiful lakefront,Millenium Park, Soldier Field, the Olympics, and on and on.
Stroger Sr. was one of the best bed-fellows Daley ever had and Jr. will do the same, regardless of the consequences.

All the while these folks waste 100's of millions of dollars, neighborhoods like ours struggled for a little more police protection and commercial modernization. We, of the lowly 19th. ward, wish only to please his royal highness and court jesters near and far.
Voters remain apathetic here and poltical outsider candidates remain few and far between. We're a system broken at ever turn. Daley supports Bush and vice-versa and do you really think either are fit to be king?
Not on a bet, not even a lottery ticket bet.

Anonymous said...

Well Mr. Byrne while your at it could you please see if Mr. Peraica will pay for the additional security needed election night after starting his attempted siege of the county building

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Mr. Byrne. You'll never know exactly how much meaning and comfort your words held for me today.

Anonymous said...

Its not that you are right or wrong, you simply have an opinion, Mr. Byrne, and it is full of crap.

See, its very en vogue right now to cast aside Mr. Stroger as though his term in office is over, when, in fact, it hasn't even begun.

I am not saying he will or won't do a good job. But I was willing to give him a shot over Two-faced Tony and see what he could do.

What ultraconservatives like yourself have been unwilling to admit is that Tony accomplished nothing during his term as Commissioner. He just acted as a contributing contrarian - one of several who postured for four years while gunning for the Presidency.

In the end, Sir, you and your candidate were beaten. You were beaten by other voters, Peraica by Stroger.

And you are both poor losers.

You use the Trib's column inches to whine and moan, telling those that voted for Stroger how stupid they are; how dumb and inane for voting as they chose, which is their right.

And Peraica? Well, his little midnight trek made for good political theatre but not much else.

In the end, you both failed to get what you want. And the 600,000-plus HACKS that elected Todd Stroger have their man.

Thanks for reminding us how stupid we are.

Dennis Byrne said...

In his own words: Todd Stroger on Fox News Morning Show (11/12/06)

Jack Conaty: What is the size of the projected deficit as you understand it right now?

Todd Stroger: Uh, as I understand it it’s working its way to $500 million.

Jack Conaty: And you can address that merely through laying people off or are we looking at a serious tax increase?

Todd Stroger: No, you know, I’m certain you’ll remember—in what year was that—’95 when the Republicans swept the House. This is just history repeating itself so now we get our chance to go to Washington and beg for money.

Dane Placko: What can you do to convince people that you are indeed a new Stroger? Is there something you can make a splash with, an action you can take, something you can say to convince people that the old way of doing business is truly gone?

Todd Stroger: You know I believe in getting in there doing the best job you can and people will know you from your actions. I’m not a big splashy guy. They will see what’s going on in government and they should be happy with what we’re doing.

Jack Conaty: So you predict a year from now, two years from now, three years from now, we’ll see a smaller, leaner, more productive county government?

Todd Stroger: That’s my prediction.

Jack Conaty: (laughter)…It’s your prediction, but do you have plans in place you believe, Todd, to make that happen realistically or is that patronage army that has haunted county government all these years going to stay largely in tact?

Todd Stroger: Well, you know the good thing about being an insider—and I might as well be an insider the way I got beat up so I’ll call myself that—is you realize that there’s really not many demons running around back there with ideas and smoking cigars with hats. People realize what the landscape is and that, you know, the money is not there to have all these people working for the county.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for clear-eyed reporting.
The "Combine" as Kass calls it is bankrupting us.
Finish the job you started today.
Report on the sell-out by self-righteous
"Leaders" of the Democratic Party.
They call for change but not for folks back
home in Cook County.
It was despicable to get urgent letters
from Barak Obama, Rahm Emmanuel, Dick Durbin
Mike Quigley and various Aldermen pleading
Todd Stroger. What insulting disrespect.
The tar of scandal from this election should
stick. Voters tried for change in Spring and voted for Claypool.
The Combine stepped in and put on brass knuckles.

Terry Cosgrove said...

Tony Peraica: You mean honest, clean and open government from a guy who comes out of Betty Lauren Maltese's and Ed Vrdolyak's organization? Of course, how could voters possibly pass up this opportunity? And then he couldn't hide what a nutcase he is on election night----now that stunt was reassuring as well. Go get 'em Dennis!

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Yes, I am in another world where patronage,
sloth, waste, corruption, arrogrance, incompetence,
ignorance and greed are not endorsed by
puppets taking orders from the backroom
while publically proclaiming themselves "reformers."
Peracia imploded election night. Where were
his handlers? He had none..he had no one all along.
He should have been told to get some
rest. He isn't perfect, but he was no patsy and
therefore oh so dangerous. Like Vallas.
He was exactly the message that should have
been sent...clean this house up. Obama could
have sat it out or endorsed Claypool. Now we have
the astute financial stylings of Alderman Beavers and
his merry band of thugs. Compared with that Fast Eddie was a Statesman. Gun Control and Abortion... not County controlled but great diversions.
This was reverse racism. We all know it.

Johnnnymac66 said...

One of my partners is a Canadian citizen who doesn't have a vote in this country. As usual, we watched "Chicago Tonight" on Channel 11 over dinner. Todd Stroger's interview with Carol Marin led my partner to ask me, "Does that man have any idea how ignorant he appears? Doesn't he have any PR people prepping him for the questions he's being asked? He's an ignoramus."

The answer, of course, is no, he has no clue about how clueless he is or appears on TV or in person because he's, well, clueless.

Dennis and Carol and other commentators have tip toed on eggshells around the 800 pound gorilla in the kitchen, but I won't. Todd Stroger was endorsed by the Daley machine and elected in Cook County solely because he's black. The Daley endorsement ensured the black vote falling in line for the mayoral vote in '08. It also scattered Jesse Jackson Jr. and Luis Guitterez back to washington to do Daley's bidding there.

If I was a black voter in Cook County, I'd be outraged and saddened by how easily the black vote is controlled by Daley.

Todd Stroger didn't get elected on merit. He got elected simply because he's black.

Too bad the black voters of Cook County think so little of themselves that Stroger was the best candidate they could muster.

dm said...

You are a sore loser, with an emphasis on loser.

Certain elements of white America are so accustomed to having things their way,( people like you, Eric Zorn and others in the white controlled media, the righteously indignant from the suburbs and others) that they just will not let it go. When things do not go their way, those with another opinion must be "stupid". No one would dare have the temerity to have a thought independent from their own ivory tower enlightened position.

It is going to be enjoyable to watch these folks continue to act as if their panties are in a bunch with sand in their vaginas, especially knowing that their overkill on trying to savage President Elect Stroger in the media actually produced a backlash, especially in the African-American community.

Many fellow African-Americans I spoke to, especially older ones, the generation of pioneers from the Civil Right era, said that while they may have had misgivings originally about President Elect Stroger, once in the voting booth they were not going to abandon a brother and that the way the media went over the top in their portrayal of him brought them back home to do the right thing.

So in a way, thank you Dennis, Tribune and others, for providing that final nudge that pushed some voters putting their arrow next to President Elect Stroger.

While decrying the negativeness of campaigns this cycle, you and your colleagues actually helped to contribute to the noise that turned so many off.

Now keep paying your taxes.

Anonymous said...


Sour Grapes? How dare you insult voters' motivations. Voters are given choices and must make decisions based upon political realities. Peraica barely won his commissioner's seat. The Green Party won 10% of the gubernatorial vote. Would that have been enough to take the foot out of Judy's mouth? George Bush was not elected, in 2000, by the voters, but elected by the States. It is a subtle but important difference.
What Jornalism class do you take to practice the art of name calling?

Anonymous said...

Abandon a BROTHER. Are you kidding? Harold Washington got my vote. Obama got
my vote. Vallas got my vote. Claypool got
my vote. And Periaca got my vote. Even Danny
Davis would have been a better choice.
See a pattern? Experience, competence, and a clue about what is going on. Invoking the
Civil Rights struggle in the same sentence with
Todd Stroger is pathetic. It will indeed be
fascinating to watch the excuses created as a
bankrupt County tries to serve the needy
while squandering the motherlode on
low-life trash. Guess what-the people paying
all the bills with their property taxes will:
1) either leave the city to the incompetents
2) demand and get the extreme-remember
Bernie Epton and his shameful "Before It's Too
Late." The African-American community has
sold itself out-you WILL get what you pay for.

Anonymous said...

Now that we didn't "throw the bums out", we have to hold the new Stroger administration accountable for achieving what the old one didn't - fiscal responsibility. I hope you, your fellow jounalists, Patrick Fitzgerald, and the public conduct close scrutiny of the new Cook County leadership to measure their success or failure and make it very public.

Anonymous said...

The last comment really hits home. Think of
Detroit and New Orleans. It is ridiculous to
support people who cheat themselves
but take no responsiblity for the outcome.
They got their man. Now come the
consequences. Poor minorities will be
hurt more than any other group. People with
means will leave or continue to insulate
and ignore the tragedy of Cook County