After several years spent searching for gainful employment, ousted Cook County Board President Todd Stroger says he’s happy to return to the payrolls of government and relishes the chance to “get out more” through his new job, working for a South Side alderman.
“You do get down when the doors close on you a lot. And I do need to get out more,” Stroger said Thursday, reflecting on the years since his 2010 defeat to current board President Toni Preckwinkle.
But Stroger said that while he’s grateful for the job, he thinks he should be able to land something better than the $30,000 a year contact position he accepted with 21st Ward Ald. Howard Brookins earlier this week.
In an ideal world, Stroger said his resume would qualify him for a top-tier managerial position.
Stroger was a state legislator and Chicago alderman. Then his powerful father, former Cook County President John Stroger, suffered a debilitating stroke and Democratic Party bosses put Todd Stroger on the ballot instead. He won.
“This combination is very rare,” Stroger said of himself. “The only people I can think of who can say they have this kind of experience is some lobbyist. The only other person who would come close is [former] Mayor [Richard M.] Daley.”
Still, he continued: “Having a salary is important. Feeling like you’re contributing to your family is important.”
“There’s no use hiding it: Right now, $30,000 a year seems like $174,000,” he said referring to his much higher salary as county board president.
Stroger said his employability took a hit from bad publicity. During his tenure as board president he grabbed headlines for handing out high-level patronage jobs to friends and marshaling a sales tax increase into effect. Later, two high-level staffers were convicted on corruption charges.
Now Stroger says he’s radioactive to many potential employers.
“Mayor Daley can go out and get three jobs. They wouldn’t even look at me as a result of all the press,” Stroger said. “There’s a fear that if you do hire me, you’ll get lambasted.”
He laid part of the blame at the feet of Preckwinkle, who he said was embraced by Lakefront Liberal reformers, who look down on the ways of the old-school Democratic machine.
“There is such a thing that we call institutional racism: people have a certain view of … African-American (politicians), that they are just out to help their friends and she has helped perpetuate that,” Stroger said of Preckwinkle.
A spokeswoman for Preckwinkle, who is also African-American, did not offer a response to Stroger’s comment.
Stroger said that when he took over as the county’s chief executive he faced many challenges, including a power vacuum – created by his father’s stroke-related absentia – and a budget that was in the red. What’s more, the offspring of powerful, white politicians have not faced as much scrutiny when elected as he did, Stroger said.
Despite a lack of opportunities, Stroger says he’s grateful Brookins hired him, a move first reported by Sun-Times columnist Carol Marin. He expects to report to the 21st Ward aldermanic offices about three days a week.
“He’s the one person on the grid who said, ‘I’m not afraid,’ ” said Stroger, who wants to focus his job-related efforts on violence reduction and improving South Side schools.
Stroger said the job also offers a chance for him to make a political comeback.
“There are people who believe in my work ethic and knowledge, and I will run for something eventually,” Stroger said. “I’ve been blackballed in government and the only way you can get some power is if you grab it yourself.”