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Proviso Probe

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Rep. Ford interviews Todd Stroger on WVON

Sunday, on his weekly WVON radio program State Rep. La Shawn Ford interviewed Cook County Board President Todd Stroger.

Ford's questions were a combination of obsequious and opening the door so Stroger could make the points he's making in his campaign for re-election. Ford made a big deal of Stroger's education based on being admitted to St. Ignatius College Prepatory School (competitive admission) and getting a BA in history from Xavier University in Louisiana. At one point Ford referred to Stroger being “crucified” in the media.

(Ford is a strong proponent of Catholic Schools, so it's not surprising he started by emphasizing Stroger's Catholic school roots.)

I called and asked three questions. Two callers made points about Kiddieland. Otherwise the callers were all Stroger supporters who spent time attacking either the media or Rep. Danny Davis for running against Stroger.

Stroger mostly left me thinking less of him after the interview than before.

Stroger mentioned that he started college as an engineering major, but decided to switch when he realized engineers sit at their desks all day. Stroger wanted to move around more.

I am 95+% sure Stroger is lying. Stroger quit his engineering major because he either couldn't do the course work or wasn't willing to make the effort to do the course work. Engineering is hard; history is easy. Stroger's line about engineers spending all their time at their desks is BS. Good engineers push to spend more time with the equipment and seeing how the operators handle the equipment in real life (as opposed to how they should be handling it according to designers). Good engineers spend time in design labs. The excuse Stroger provided for quitting engineering is designed to sound reasonable to someone who is ignorant, but it's simply not true.

In my first question I asked Stroger what he did as an investment banker. Stroger likes to mention his experience as an investment banker on the campaign trail. It sounds like a serious job.

Stroger connected taxing bodies who wanted to sell bonds to bond buyers. He was paid on commission. I'm sure there was some paperwork to do, but I suspect there is very little uncertainty associated with this work. The taxing body decides to borrow money. The rating agencies rate each taxing body. And then the bonds are sold to investors. Bonds are very conservative investments, so it's not like an investor needs to be convinced to take a risk.

Which taxing bodies did Stroger make commissions from? He listed a few, including City of Chicago, Chicago Park District, State of Illinois and District 152 (Harvey elementary schools).

One of the galling things Stroger said in the interview was that he didn't expect to go into politics, he saw himself in the private sector. What is the definition of “private sector” in Stroger's mind? Using political connections to get commissions on sale of bonds? If private sector means private investors raising capital and selling private goods and services to private (not government) customers, Stroger has never held a private sector job. Or, he hasn't mentioned it on the campaign trail.

I asked if Stroger bore increased responsibility for Donna Dunning not working-out as the CFO for Cook County government. Stroger fired his cousin, Dunning, as CFO because of her role in the Tony Cole scandal. See Eric Zorn (Chicago Tribune).

Stroger claimed hiring Dunning reflected positively on him. He said Dunning was successful because Cook County government is “in the black”. Stroger keeps hammering the message that Cook County government had a deficit (although Stroger used the word “debt”) of $ ½ billion when he assumed office and now has a surplus. Stroger's critics contend Stroger's 1% sales tax increase exceeded the needs of the county and that much of the excess taxation has gone to hiring people who aren't needed for Cook County to provide services.

In my final query I asked Stroger to explain the difference between good management and bad management. I asked this question because I suspect Stroger hasn't had experiences in well run organizations and poorly run organizations. He doesn't appreciate the difference; he doesn't know when to delegate issues and when to get involved personally. For example, he dictates who should be hired for low level positions (like when Tony Cole was hired). He doesn't understand that his job as President is to set a direction for county government and keep his lieutenants moving toward the goals he sets. Everything else should be delegated.

Stroger's answer to my query was, “Good management is when things go well; bad management is when they go poorly.” There are a few ways to take Stroger's answer. 1) He's an idiot; 2) He thinks the people listening are idiots; or 3) he just wanted to be disrespectful toward me.

Arlene Jones and then Chris from Edgewater called to encourage Cook County government to do something to keep Kiddieland operating. See Arlene Jones (Austin Weekly News). Both Jones and Chris wanted the Cook County Forest Preserve District to provide land. On this point Stroger balanced acknowledging the passion of Jones and Chris with the constraints on using FPD land for non-forest preserve purposes.

(BTW, I'm pretty sure the origin of making it all but impossible to shift the use of forest preserve land to non forest preserve purposes goes back to the building of Proviso East High School, which sits on land owned by the Forest Preserve District. Forest preserve advocates made the case that there wasn't a point to having a forest preserve if local politicians could raid the land for worthy projects easily.)

I was surprised that so many people called to criticize Rep. Danny Davis for running for President of the Cook County Board. Some said he's doing great in Congress and should stay there (or should have run for U.S. Senate). Others said Davis wasn't particularly productive in Congress. And some emphasized that Davis is just too old and should make way for younger voices. One caller was upset Davis got $160 million for "White folks".

At least one person, Eunice from the South Side, made the argument that Mayor Richard Daley has engaged in much mismanagement, insider deals and cronyism as Stroger. The media seems to accept Daley's misdeeds as part of the package while attacking Stroger for the same transgressions.

This is a strong enough argument that it should be discussed (as opposed to most of the arguments made by callers which were just silly). At a forum on TIFs (see (BobB) Prairie State Blue), Ben Joravsky made this argument on behalf of Stroger. Joravsky's position is not so much asking people to go easier on Stroger, but to ask, why the #%&* Chicagoans don't push to hold Daley accountable.

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  • I recently had the opportunity to watch Todd Stroger in person and I have to say it was absolutely appalling. For some reason he's decided to pick on the CORE Center, the terrific HIV/AIDS center on the near west side. It's been covered well in the Chicago Free Press, http://www.chicagofreepress.com/node/3831
    Rep Ford is trying to carve out a niche as an HIV/AIDS advocate. I wonder where he is in this fight.
    I'm not a big Danny Davis fan (the Rev Moon stuff in particular) but he'd be a big improvement from Todd.

    By Blogger Ann, at 2:56 PM, September 09, 2009  

  • how says
    Daley has his flaws, but he does have a lot to show and has accomplished a lot. T. Stroger also has flaws, but doesn't seem able to accomplish much.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:35 PM, September 10, 2009  

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