Todd Stroger working to rebuild image

September 12, 2008 4:16:51 PM PDT
For the second time in two days, Cook County Board President Todd Stroger was out Friday pushing new services offered by the county. This is a change in tactics for Stroger after two years of harsh criticism over county budget problems and a massive sales tax increase. Battered by nepotism charges, huge deficits during his first years in office and criticism for one of the largest sales tax increases in recent history, Stroger has a new campaign underway to rebuild his image.

It was another grand opening: President Stroger cut the ribbon on the front doors of a new pharmacy at Provident Hospital, 500 E. 51st St. The three-times-larger facility replaces the old pharmacy, where needy patients waited hours, sometimes over several days, to get their prescriptions filled for free as part of the Cook County healthcare system.

"This is a great component of that health care system," said Todd Stroger, (D) Cook County Board president.

It's the latest example of how Democrat Stroger is reselling himself to Cook County voters. After party leaders named him to replace his late father on the 2006 general election ballot, Stroger's first two years in office were filled with controversy over his qualifications. His term hit a low point as he led the political battle to raise the county's sales tax to fill a massive budget deficit.

As retailers began charging the additional tax over the summer, Stroger stepped up his public appearances.

"We have to roll out things every two weeks, new things that we're doing, and people are receptive and see that there are things going on," said Stroger.

But Commissioner Forrest Claypool, who lost in the 2006 primary to Stroger's father and who is still considering whether to challenge Todd in 2010, called the son's term "a debacle" that no public relations campaign could change.

"When you raise taxes to record levels and you are shutting down neighborhood health clinics that serve poor people, there is a huge disconnect and something is wrong," said Forrest Claypool, (D) Cook County commissioner.

Stroger's staff is fully aware of their boss's vulnerability on the tax issue. And they acknowledge it's a big reason he does as many "feel-good" events as possible.

"This is how Todd Stroger has performed as your county board president and how the dollars as necessary are used to make these types of issues a reality. Such as this pharmacy," said Sean Howard, Stroger staff member.

Claypool says he will not decide until next summer whether to challenge Todd Stroger in the 2010 primary.

Meanwhile, Stroger and his staff plan to keep up a steady schedule of public appearances throughout the county. Stroger aides deny these are early campaign events. They say its just good government.


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