Meet the new Todd Stroger

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Cook County board president Todd Stroger knows he’s in trouble.

Hammered by the dailies and online commentators, used as campaign fodder in races that have nothing to do with him, and now facing a challenge from a former colleague who helped get him into office in 2006, he’s decided to try to remake himself in somebody else’s image.

The most recent evidence is his abrupt commitment to lowering taxes—the same ones he raised last year, causing outrage, protest, succession threats, and utterances of commissioner Larry Suffredin’s name in vain.

But that's not Stroger's only attempt at a makeover. He recently fired a patronage employee--the guy had a troubled past, but that wouldn't have mattered before--and in the last couple months he's even been trying to make nice with reporters. In a reversal of the usual order of things, a few weeks ago one of his aides got in touch with my colleague Ben Joravsky and asked if he was available for an interview. The suggestion was that Ben might actually give Stroger a fair hearing.

A couple of days later I ran into one of Stroger’s press guys on the street. I too was invited for an interview because, I was told, I might actually give Stroger a fair hearing.

Since then the honor has been extended to quite a few other fair-minded reporters in town.

Meanwhile, alderman Toni Preckwinkle—one of the ward committeemen who voted to give Stroger the Democratic nomination two years ago—has announced that she’s challenging Stroger for board president in next year’s primary.

The conventional wisdom has been that Preckwinkle will ensure Stroger’s defeat by splitting the black vote and clearing the way for Forrest Claypool. I have a hunch that Preckwinkle will poll better on the north side and in the suburbs than people think, and that she can beat the others among Latinos, but she’d apparently rather improve her chances by other means—several sources have told me she’s lobbying Stroger to drop out of the race altogether.

So far he’s declined. He’s busy calling committeemen and asking for their endorsements, with mixed success—"I told him it’s too soon," one committeeman explained to me, which is a fairly diplomatic way of saying "I’d rather go with someone who can win, or at least someone I wouldn’t fear being seen next to in public."

And if he’s getting ready to argue with Tony Peraica about just how much of the tax hike to undo, he’s certainly running. For his political life.

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