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Chicagoist's "Top 10 in 2010:" #10 - Todd Stroger's "Screw It" Zone

By Chuck Sudo in News on Dec 20, 2010 7:20PM

2009_09_10_toddler.jpg The moral of this story? “A man without hope is a man without fear.”

By the time of the February primary elections, only Todd Stroger and his most loyal supporters believed he stood a chance of winning the Democratic nomination for Cook County Board President. For all we know, even they might have been lying to his face to protect what was theirs.

The Cook County Democratic Party, responsible for getting Stroger on the ballot in 2006 to replace his late father John, largely avoided his toxicity. Stroger’s commissioners on the County Board, once they realized he was a political dead man walking, began to question his policies. The voting public was fed up with the growing litany of stories detailing the incompetence, naked patronage and unchecked arrogance of the Stroger administration.

Given all that, County Democrats could have slated a broom against Stroger and stood a good chance of winning the primary. Instead, 4th Ward Alderman Toni Preckwinkle had the honors of making Stroger a lame duck County Board President.

And that’s when the fun started.

With nothing left to lose, Stroger started buying furniture for county offices and hired his campaign spokeswoman Carla Oglesby as his deputy chief of staff at a salary of $116,000. Additionally, Oglesby’s communications firm was paid $24,975 for services rendered during the primary campaign. The number was just shy of the minimum amount in which the payment would require approval from the County Board. Oglesby didn’t stop there. She received $300,000 of “24-nine” payments that eventually got her arrested for embezzlement. Even that didn’t stop Oglesby from filing for unemployment after she was let go.

Seeing that Stroger was firmly entrenched in the “Screw-It” zone, the County Board voted overwhelmingly to limit his power. Stroger, of course, vetoed that, then went ahead and gave his CFO Jaye Williams a $54,000 raise. Stroger’s previous CFO, his cousin Donna Dunnings, resigned at Stroger’s request after reports surfaced that an administrative assistant and one-time steakhouse busboy hired by Stroger made unflattering allegations about Dunnings.

There were the hirings of and quick payments to two companies not listed on state or county business registries to promote energy efficiency and composting. And the zoo party for flooding victims paid for with federal grant money. It all reeked like a backed-up trough in a Wrigley Field men’s room.

Stroger didn’t take his primary loss in stride. Preckwinkle, hoping for a smooth transition, wound up having to deal with a petulant, uncooperative Stroger. Stroger wanted Preckwinkle to keep his hirings around because they could offer “experience.” But Preckwinkle, in one of her first moves as County Board President, showed dozens of Stroger staffers the same door that hit him where the Good Lord split him.