Ald. Todd Stroger, son of longtime county government official John Stroger and Democratic candidate for Cook County Board President, respects his father's legacy, but feels he can bring much more to the table.
Currently alderman of the 8th Ward, Stroger's prior experience included serving as a state representative for Illinois' 31st district. As a state representative, Stroger worked to bring reform to state government, and fought for equality for all.
Dismissing allegations that he is a Machine puppet, Stroger says he takes pride in his independence, promising he will bring changes to county government to improve efficiency and accountability while remaining a strong ally to the GLBT community.
Windy City Times: Why do you think you are the most qualified candidate?
Todd Stroger: Right off the bat, I would say that I have 14 years of elected experience. [ As a state representative, Stroger was chairman of the House Labor & Commerce and Local Government committees. ]
I have a lot of experience, and my opponent trying to ridicule me by calling me 'Little Toddy' and such just shows that he knows nothing about me.
WCT: What sets you apart from your father? What can you bring to the table if elected?
TS: I tell people that I thought my father was a good manager, and he knew county government like nobody else. But in that, his elected office was county board for all of his life, and I've had [ a lot of ] experiences in the state and in the city, and I've had to work with the people in a different fashion. Downstate, people were coming down and pressing their issues, trying to get you to support their issues. When you're caring for legislation, you are trying to press your comrades to go your way. In city council, it's a bit different. City council is working with your constituents and working with the departments, trying to get those little things that they need, like a new curb or dealing with that new sidewalk that has a crack in it. It's a totally different set of skills that you have to have, and I think I've been successful with that. Those are things that he didn't have to do when he was in elected office. He's always had the county board, which was totally different. The matters that they talk about are more day-to-day.
I think I bring a totally different perspective to the board. I bring youth. I guess you could say my dad is old. [ Laughs ] He's literally 77. He was elected as the board president 12 years ago, which means he was 65. So, he was in the later stages of life, even then. You tend to look at the world differently and when you're that age, you tend to be more conservative in what you're doing—like, 'We've been doing this for a long time; I don't see any reason to change it because it works.' But when you're a young man coming from the outside, you're able to view it in a different way, and say, 'I can see where we need to change things. I can see that this may have worked back in 1985, but now that it's 2006, we're going to have to do it a different way, bring in some automation and technology, bring in some people with some different ideas who haven't been tied to the system for the last 20 years.' So, I guess that would probably be the biggest difference between myself and my dad.
WCT: For a lot of gay voters, one of their top priorities is making county government more efficient and less corrupt. What are some plans you have? I know you have plans for an Independent Inspector General Office that you want to create.
TS: They have an Inspector General now and, from what I can see, he hasn't done a bad job. On the other hand, right now, the Inspector General is pretty much, you could say, tied to the president's office. The president could fire him just like he can any other employee. So, my idea is that we would have an Independent Inspector General that would be six years. As the county board members would run, he would still be in his term. We would get a list of potential interviewees from the Chicago Bar Association, and I think we were talking about the American Bar Association. He would have the ability, or a woman, to investigate any office.
My thought is that right now, the inspector general has to call any other elected official. If he wanted to investigate the Clerk's office, he'd have to call the Clerk and say, 'Oh, I want to do an investigation on this,' and of course, they have to say OK. I would want this person to be able to go to any of these officers, without them knowing about it. He could start any investigation. If somebody calls him, he could go in and investigate. If he has an inkling that a department is doing something wrong, he can just go right on in there. I think that would help alleviate some of the thought that he or she is not really independent.
WCT: A lot of the people in the community view your opponent as being very anti-gay. We know you've been an ally, so if elected, what would you do to continue your support for the gay community?
TS: I think the issue that the county may be able to deal with would have to deal with the registration issue and how people are treated in the sense of things like healthcare, or at this point I guess, power of attorney—how we can make things mirror what we can do when people get married.
WCT: Will you continue to hold meetings with not only the LGBT community, but other communities throughout the city?
TS: I think we need to try to keep a pulse of all the different groups in this large county. As we say, this is a city of neighborhoods. Once you get out in the cities and villages in the outlying area, it's the same thing. People have their own issues, and want to be able to reach you. I think it's important to be able to communicate with the people making the decisions.
WCT: What are some other issues close to your heart that you definitely want to tackle if in office?
TS: I really think that we need to make sure that we get this budget in line, and that we're able to really do the services that we need to do that are outlined in the statutes. We also really need to do some expansion in our healthcare services. Preventive care is really the most important thing. You know, Stroger Hospital is really bursting at the seams with all the people coming through it. If we could have a few more clinics, and have people go through those, it would probably alleviate some of the problems at Stroger. I think that would make the whole healthcare system stronger.
WCT: Is there anything you'd like to do to alleviate the HIV/AIDS crisis in Chicago?
TS: I think that CORE Center is a great facility. When it opened, I guess there were some commissioners there, but the only other people there were Lisa Madigan and myself. That is such an important issue. We really need to make sure we have more awareness, and that people take it as a serious matter. We have to really make sure the public understands this. I think the county plays a role in information.
WCT: Is there anything else you'd like to add?
TS: The county government is an important [ one ] . It's there to do some things that cities don't do, so we have to take care of it. People know you from what you've done, and the people you hang around. I think that I have shown myself to be someone who is understanding of what the issues are, and what concerns Cook County residents have. I have worked with a lot of people who are like-minded. At this point, the hardest thing I've had is trying to get people to see that. What I've found was the hardest thing for me, was it was hard to get people to stand up and say, 'You know what? I've worked with Todd Stroger for this many years. I was able to walk up to him and tell him what I thought and he was letting me know right away what he thought, and if he was going to support me.'
Everyone has been afraid of getting hit by the bus and stepping out in front, which has disappointed me, because I thought that I've always been an aboveboard person. Some of these attacks have not only been on my character, [ but ] they've [ also ] been on me as an elected official, trying to portray me as a puppet, among others. I've been my own person all of my life, which is probably why my dad yelled at me so much. [ Laughs ] I guess part of my problem is since I am my own person, I have the ability to be truly independent. I came from a strong ward organization, and my dad did not call me up and say, 'You vote this way today, you vote this way tomorrow.' I could do what I thought was right. In that, I didn't have to talk to a lot of people, so maybe they don't know me that well.
See strogerforpresident.com for more information.