On Dec. 6 Cook County Board President Todd Stroger will turn off the lights in his downtown office at 118 N. Clark St. for the last time.

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On Dec. 6 Cook County Board President Todd Stroger will turn off the lights in his downtown office at 118 N. Clark St. for the last time.

When that day comes, he plans to leave behind little regret but much admiration for a job well done.

“I gave it my best shot despite my critics and think I did a good job,” Stroger told the Defender in a recent editorial board meeting. “I got a lot accomplished under some tough circumstances.”

One of those accomplishments he alluded to was the county’s $3.1 billion budget, which has remained balanced since 2006, when he was elected to replace his late father, John H. Stroger Jr., as president of the Cook County Board of Commissioners.

Todd Stroger was able to balance the current budget without leasing county assets, massive layoffs or major cuts to health care, in part, due to an unpopular one penny sales tax increase.

However, in July the tax was slightly rolled back to 1.25 percent from 1.75 percent.

Stroger estimates that the county could lose as much as $200 million a year as a result of the sales tax rollback and insists the next county board president will need to identify new revenue streams to replace the tax.

“It won’t be easy but it is something that will have to be addressed rather quickly. I regret I was not able to keep the sales tax increase in place,” he said. “For years, the county has been looked upon as a waste of (taxpayers’) money but the county serves such an important role.”

According to Stroger, 85 percent of the county’s budget goes to fund health care and public safety. Cook County employs 26,000 people and is one of the largest counties in the country with Blacks accounting for 1.3 million of the 5.3 million residents, according to the U.S. Census.

Stroger said the media never gave him a fair shake.

“The stories written and broadcasted were never really about the tax. It was more so about me,” he said. “ Our message could never get out because of the bad press I received.”

Three hires the mainstream media focused on were Donna Dunning, Stroger’s cousin and the county’s former chief financial officer; Tony Cole, a former assistant manager in the Human Resource department; and most recently Carla Oglesby, his former deputy chief of staff.

“Tony was a bad hire. No question about it. He turned out to be loony tune!” Stroger said.

Stroger fired Cole, a convicted felon, last April after learning he lied on his employment application about his criminal background.

He also fired Dunning last year after allegations, which she denied, surfaced that she was having an inappropriate relationship with Cole, who she supervised. Stroger said he asked and received her resignation because he did not want to see her “crucified by the media” over these allegations.

Oglesby was arrested last month and charged by the Cook County State’s Attorney office for theft of government property, money laundering and official misconduct, three felonies punishable by up to 30 years in prison.

Stroger had previously suspended her for a week without pay after she allegedly steered a no-bid contract for $24,975 to CGC Communications Inc., a Chicago public relations firm she owns.

“Carla Oglesby made some bad decisions but she is a good employee,” Stroger said prior to learning about her arrest.

Classifying himself as a family man Stroger said he looks forward to spending more time with his wife and two small children.

He lives in the Avalon Park community on the South Side and previously represented his neighborhood as the 8th Ward alderman before he was elected county board president.

In February Stroger finished last in a four-way primary race.

“The press can decide what it wants to say to the community, and it has the ability to make or break people,” he said.

He also blamed his failed re-election on a lack of support by Black elected officials.

“Who should be your allies in tough times end up being your enemies. Some people have cut their noses to spite their face,” he said, railing politicians who he said didn’t back him, while declining to name names. “Let’s just say my future will not depend on my Black elected brothers.”

When Stroger often received what he considers “bad press,” he said there was an absence of Black elected officials who spoke publicly in support of him. Add to that the fact that he wasn’t re-elected, the county board president said he felt forsaken.

“I am disappointed in the Black community for not supporting me,” said Stroger, who admitted that he leaves office “bitter.”

“Under my watch county health clinics and hospitals remained open despite pressure to close them to save money. Many laid off employees were able to return to the county payroll,” he said, listing some of his accomplishments in office.

He is not interested in running for mayor of Chicago, but Stroger has not ruled out a return to politics.

“I’m not interested in becoming mayor,” he said. “I have enough grief in my life. I don’t need anymore.”

Copyright 2010 Chicago Defender

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