Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Stroger’s Stroke Could Well Prompt Pressure for His Withdrawal from the Race

News that John Stroger has suffered a stroke may well lead Daley supporters to push the 76-year-old Cook county Board president to withdraw from the race in favor of Forrest Claypool. While there’s a bitterness between Stroger and Claypool, there is very little doubt that the aged president is at a point—with news reports saying his speech is slurred and his reasoning unsteady—where it would seriously jeopardize his health to continue to run. Then, too, it is no secret that Claypool has superb credentials with the Daley people given that David Axelrod and Rahm Emanuel are backing him. There’s no chance that they would be involved if the mayor did not want them to be. Up to today, the position of the mayor might well be stated as this: Since Stroger wants to make the run, we will back him because of the long historical alliance between the two camps extending back to Daley I and including Stroger’s great loyalty to Richard M. Daley even when Harold Washington ran. You simply don’t turn your back on that magnificent expression of loyalty if you’re Rich Daley—especially if you count on African American votes turning out in great numbers when you run for mayor again in 2007. But realism requires to show a good deal of respect for Claypool who is extraordinarily close to Daley.

Now obviously the Daley position has to change, I would imagine. If the president is maimed by the stroke, his running from a sick bed would be detrimental not just to county government but his own reputation. His continuing to run could trigger a vast emotional outpouring of sympathy for his re-nomination—and he might very well be re-nominated, but such an eventuality would be highly dangerous politically. The re-nomination could spur a national story which could damage the machine: the idea that it is willing to run a seriously ill man against a vigorous younger one. Even though the machine is generally impervious to media concerns, there is little doubt that the editorial boards and TV coverage would present a pathetically vulnerable machine unwilling to react to changing events. In that eventuality, if the machine lowered its head and stuck with Stroger, it could present a series of devastating satirical commentaries by Leno and Letterman and the Democratic machine would be a laughing-stock. If Stroger happened to beat Claypool on a sympathy vote, the stage could be set for a Peraica Republican win.

That, I’m confident, would be unacceptable no matter how much sentiment is involved in Stroger’s condition. After all, politics is politics and the idea of a Republican running the county board is totally unacceptable. My guess is that great pressure will be put on Stroger and his family to get him to withdraw gracefully from the lists, leading to a great circus of Claypool and others praising the old man. Something not unlike the old days of the Soviet Union where you looked at the figures on the Kremlin parapet. The machine is, after all, very like the old USSR. Unless I’m far wrong, you’ll see a staged event where Daley, Claypool and a weakened John Stroger appear on the parapet with everybody kissing up to Stroger.

What are the chances this would not come to pass? I think very unlikely. True, Dwight Eisenhower had a heart attack, stroke and ileitis and ran for reelection in 1956 but he was younger and in vastly better shape than Stroger appears to be.

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