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Todd Stroger can’t win.
For four years he’s been the butt of jokes, the topic of scathing editorials, and the symbol of government waste for angry Cook County taxpayers. Sometimes he deserves it and sometimes he's a straw man. And now, with his political fortunes waning, Stroger appears to have decided that the only way to eke out reelection is by focusing on mobilizing his base in the black community. This may be a practical move, but it ensures that even if he does survive the Democratic primary in February, it's unlikely that he'll be able to govern as effectively as he has the last three years—and as you might have noticed, that bar isn't terribly high.
It was impossible to reach any other conclusion after witnessing the presidential candidates’ forum hosted by the 43rd Ward Democrats yesterday at DePaul University.
Contender Dorothy Brown, the clerk of the county court, who continues to duck allegations that she’s just in the race to divide the black vote, held up the start of the event by arriving 15 minutes late. But at least she arrived. Stroger didn’t—and that really irked moderator Andy Shaw of the Better Government Association.
“I find it an insult to this audience, and to the 43rd Ward, to say that you’re coming to a debate and then not show up,” Shaw said, prompting what turned out to be the loudest applause of the day. A few minutes later he invited the three candidates who did show up—Brown, Fourth Ward alderman Toni Preckwinkle, and water reclamation district board president Terry O’Brien—to express their own indignation at Stroger’s absence. They did, and the north-siders in the room ate it up.
Contacted by the Sun-Times, Stroger’s campaign manager said he didn’t know why his candidate skipped the forum.
But the reason doesn’t really matter—if Stroger had thought he had something to gain by being there, he'd have been there.
Based on the cheers that erupted every time Stroger and his now-notorious sales tax hike were mentioned, he might have been right to conclude that he wouldn't be getting too many votes out of Lincoln Park.
But let’s say he really mobilizes what’s left of his father’s south side political organization. Let’s say the black ministers who’ve made his reelection a crusade have the influence to get folks to the polls. Let’s say the other candidates just split up the reform, north-side, and suburban votes, and Stroger wins without a plurality. Let’s say the Republicans can’t put together a first-rate campaign and that no Democrats launch a late-hour, independent anti-Stroger bid between February and November.
Even if all that happens, how exactly is Todd Stroger planning to run the county beyond 2010? He will have spent much of the previous year blowing off frustrated voters—and I'll bet they make up at least two-thirds of the electorate. I can’t see how the commissioners they send into office a year from now would be unaware of how these people feel. Plus, Stroger won’t be able to veto his way out of trouble anymore.
He’s toast, even if he makes it past the primary.