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STEINBERG: Don’t pity Todd Stroger; pity residents of Cook County

Todd Stroger

Former Cook County Board President Todd Stroger | File photo

Watching one zeppelin-sized media career after another go up in flames, like so many Hindenburgs exploding — fwump! fwump! fwump!— as their revolting sexual excesses are disclosed, I nevertheless felt secure. Think of it as the shy guy dividend.

Alas, being a predatory creep isn’t the only way the past can rear out of the dust and bite you.

I was shocked last week to see someone completely unexpected back in the headlines, back on television, an accusation in human form aimed in my direction.

No press conference, yet. No hazy, half-remembered charges. That’s coming, no doubt.
The only thing to do is to be proactive, try to get ahead of the scandal.

Sigh.

Todd Stroger.

OPINION

I’m innocent. I swear. Stroger is not my fault, though people at the time blamed me.

“Even Stroger’s supporters were worried in the final three weeks of the campaign as to whether African Americans were going to turn out heavily for Stroger,” the Chicago Defender wrote in July 2006. “Were it not for the controversy created by Neil Steinberg’s column in the Chicago Sun-Times blasting his health status, which invigorated the Black community and drove many of them to the polls, President Stroger likely would have lost.”

That was referring to Todd’s father, John, and if you’re wondering how boosting the chances of dad meant helping junior, well, how quickly you forget.

What I had written that was so controversial was that, despite having a stroke a week before the Democratic primary, John Stroger was still a bad candidate and Cook County residents should not vote for him out of pity. The Democratic Party bigwigs hid the severity of Stroger’s illness until after the deadline for third-party candidates filing petitions had passed, then finessed Stroger the Younger onto the ballot, like a pea in a shell game. The Cook County presidency was handed over as if it were a hereditary dukedom.

Why? Hint: It wasn’t because Todd Stroger was such a dynamic leader. He couldn’t even run his own campaign, never mind the county, later paying $27,000 in fines for violating campaign reporting rules.

The tragedy of Stroger popping back up in 2017 is that . . . .

Oh, who am I kidding? No tragedy here. Christmas came early this year. There can be no greater joy for a columnist than to see Stroger with his foot in a stirrup, trying to boost himself up onto the horse of candidacy.

True, some suggest that Stroger is “too easy a target” for criticism.

Too easy a target? Really? If Donald Trump has taught us one thing, it is that the media needs to shriek instead of chuckle when the inept fix their eye on government. Stroger represents the worst excesses of Democratic cronyism and corruption. We need to recall the words Preckwinkle used to describe following Stroger into office.

“Succeeding somebody who is inept is a mixed blessing,” she said. “On one hand, the bar is low. And on the other hand, things are a mess.”

Granted, Preckwinkle has troubles of her own. She shot her own toe off — heck, toe, foot, leg up to the knee — with her misguided soda tax, a public relations disaster up there with New Coke. At least the soda tax was policy designed to fix an actual problem. Since her blunder is so fresh in mind, I feel obligated to observe that Todd Stroger’s disasters mostly stemmed from jamming his hand into the cookie jar so hard it burst through the bottom.

Remember Donna Dunnings? Stroger’s cousin, elevated by him to the county’s $170,000-a-year chief financial officer. Dunnings bailed her assistant, former steakhouse busboy and perpetual felon Tony Cole, out of jail not once but twice.

Stroger certainly knew what that meant — he fired her immediately after he learned that the Sun-Times was about to publish Cole’s rap sheet.

Nothing has changed. Asked last week about his lack of money to run, Stroger said, “People know who I am. We don’t have to raise a lot of money.”

Magical thinking. The truth is exactly the opposite: If people indeed still know who he is, he’ll need lots of money to try fog their memory.