CHICAGO (CBS) – Cook County Board President Todd Stroger received a standing ovation from county commissioners Wednesday as he presided over his final board meeting.
Stroger lost the November election to Chicago Ald. Toni Preckwinkle, largely because of the penny-on-the-dollar sales tax hike he enacted while in office.
But as he prepared to leave office, Stroger told reporters Wednesday that the sales tax increase was his proudest accomplishment in his four years on the job.
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“Raising that penny; that penny literally kept the government running and without that money we would have had to shut some doors, cut days off, not provide services as we actually are dictated to by the state,” Stroger said.
Commissioners gave Stroger a standing ovation as he entered the board meeting on Wednesday and largely honored him for his four years running the county.
Commissioner Deborah Sims (D-5th), one of Stroger’s allies on the board, praised him for the sales tax increase.
“You took a bullet that nobody else was willing to take when you raised that sales tax and I still say if we had not done that, we would be in a lot worse shape than we are today,” Sims said.
“I think I took a bullet when I said I wanted to succeed my father,” Stroger said. “From there, it was nothing but bullets. So I don’t think I could have done anything that would have been looked at well by the media.”
Democratic party leaders picked Todd Stroger to replace his father, John H. Stroger Jr., on the ballot in 2006 after the elder Stroger suffered a stroke.
The younger Stroger voiced some bitterness about the way he was treated in the media, claiming his accomplishments were ignored.
“You could always do some things better, but most of it would be, I’d say … media-related,” Stroger said. “If the media wants to portray you in a bad light, you can do great things and then they’ll just ask your enemies what do they think and they’ll say something bad.”
Preckwinkle will be sworn in as Stroger’s successor on Monday.
Wednesday also was the last day on the county board for two of Stroger’s most vocal opponents, Commissioner Tony Peraica (R-16th) and Commissioner Forrest Claypool (D-12th).
Board members had some playful barbs for Peraica, who often angrily butted heads with Stroger.
Stroger’s most vocal ally, Commissioner William Beavers (D-4th) said it was a pleasure working with Beavers despite their many disagreements.
“You never stab a person in the back. You always stab them right in the chest. And that’s what I like,” Beavers said. “And I’ve got the greatest respect for you.”
For his part, Peraica said that the county’s budget problems will continue unless salaries and benefits are examined and fixed for the long term.
“The issue of payroll, pension and benefits I talked about like a parrot aren’t going away,” Peraica warned.
Claypool praised the progress the county made during his eight years on the board, citing efforts to clean up finances at the Forest Preserve District, place the county’s public health system under independent management and to eliminate “the worst abuses of the jail.”
It was also the last board meeting for Commissioner Joseph Mario Moreno (D-7th), who lost his bid for re-election in November.