Obama’s PR Problem: Endorsing A Hack


Here in Cook County, the second-largest county in the nation, there is a population of more than 5 million, which exceeds that of 30 states.

It’s a hugely significant place, with Chicago at its epicenter and a County Board President by the name of Todd Stroger. In case you’re not familiar with him, Stroger isn’t equipped to lead a county of five people, let alone 5-plus million. To put it as clearly as I can, Stroger is a political hack.

Yet two years ago, Barack Obama, along with fellow Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, endorsed Stroger in his race against Republican Tony Peraica. Of course, it would be naive to suggest they should have endorsed Peraica. But they had the option of simply steering clear of making any endorsement.

Instead, they must have had to hold their noses as they read the glowing letter that some staffer undoubtedly penned. You can see the letter right here, as part of Chicago Tribune columnist Eric Zorn’s archives.

The endorsement letter, which may well have been instrumental in tipping the narrow race in Stroger’s favor, concluded:

“On Tuesday Todd Stroger is the only choice. You can make the difference. You can raise your voice. You can choose Todd Stroger, and let him lead us into a new era of Cook County government.”

It’s a new era, all right. A new, increasingly tax-happy, incompetent era that has made the county–and Stroger, in particular–a laughingstock. Except, in my household, nobody’s laughing at being squeezed out of even more of our hard-earned money. And that’s just the tip of a bumbling, unprofessional iceberg.

Type “Todd Stroger patronage” into Google and feast your eyes on the ways in which he’s confirmed our worst fears–and raised new ones.

In the person of Todd Stroger, Barack Obama has one serious PR problem on his hands.

I covered local government in Illinois for some 15 years, about half of that time for the Chicago Tribune. One 2 1/2-year beat was the town of Cicero, shortly after its president, Betty Loren-Maltese, and six others went to prison for stealing millions in taxpayer money. So I have seen plenty of good, bad and ugly elected officials.

Time will tell how much the Stroger debacle will cost Obama. He’s part of the Chicago Democratic Machine that Tribune columnist John Kass writes about so persistently.

I have followed Obama’s career closely the past five years, ever since I first encountered an uncommon zeal in the voices of those who supported his burgeoning U.S. Senate campaign in my town of Oak Park, Illinois.

I am reading his first book, Dreams From My Father, and last year I read an excellent, and balanced, book (Obama: From Promise to Power) that Chicago Tribune reporter David Mendell wrote–a book that moved me to write a feature story about Mendell’s journey.

And lately, even with the Stroger support nagging at me, I have wanted to believe that Obama is sincere when he lays claim to the mantle of reformer and bringing “change” to the political process. He’s bright, he’s charming, he talks a very, very good game.

But in this one crucial moment two years ago–when he held significant sway over an election of such import–Obama’s actions sharply contradicted his lofty words.

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8 thoughts on “Obama’s PR Problem: Endorsing A Hack

  1. It seems that everyone is affiliated with Chicago politics has been in the mud at some point. This isn’t an excuse but I struggle with how people point to things like this and give up on Obama. I feel that McCain has the same kind of smudges on his resume. I tend to focus on what their plans and how they present themselves. Obama seems to be held to a higher standard than other candidates. Part of it might be the change message, but I suspect that part of it is “I don’t have any better ideas, so I just knock him down”.

    I would just like to see some change. Not sound bites, not attack ads, but improvement. The last eight years have been bad. Bad health care, bad enviroment, bad foreign policy, and now bad economic decisions. I liked McCain eight years ago, but not now. I’m willing to give Obama a shot.

    Just my thoughts. Take it easy.

  2. I appreciate that John McCain has his own issues. And I’ve not yet decided whom I will vote for, frankly. In 2004, after voting for both Dems and GOPers in the past, I voted for an also-ran candidate—I was so unimpressed with both Bush and Kerry.

    Not everyone is in the mud. Paul Simon managed to steer clear of it. Same with Jim Edgar. I know they are both Downstaters originally, but there are examples aplenty in history of people who went against the grain when the grain was clearly broken. I’m not arguing against partisan support—if a half-decent Cook County Board candidate had been in place for the Dems, then I’d not begrudge Obama’s endorsement. But we’re talking about an atrocity here—and one that Obama not only looked the other way on, but emboldened and empowered via an endorsement. Downright gutless.

    Thank you for your comments, anonymous (probably a relative of mine 🙂

  3. Another thing that might clear your conscience, Matt — Obama endorsed this Stroger character two years ago, before it was clear just how terrible he’d be in office. It’s not as if he endorsed him yesterday. Like the other person who commented, I liked McCain eight years ago — I liked him a lot — I still like him because I believe the John McCain of 2000 is in there somewhere, but I have to admit, unless something changes radically, my vote’s going to Obama.

  4. For the record, Stroger declared that the answer to our problems was to double the county sales tax rate.

    So now Chicago is the leader in sales tax of America–11%. Oh what an honor.

    THAT sure is a way to stimluate economic growth. LOL.

    Thanks Barack! You rock! 😉

  5. Sure, the Stroger endorsement was a big mistake. That doesn’t really trouble me much though. It’s really pretty simple. If you’re a D, you back the D. Period.

    The one thing I have yet to understand is Obama’s land deal with Rezko for his house. How can a guy who clearly wants to be president down the road do that deal? I was seriously thinking about trying to get on board the Obama campaign until that came out. Even after he admitted it’s a mistake, I have a hard time forgiving him for that one.

  6. Everybody–and I mean, EVERYBODY–with any sense at all knew Stroger was a political stooge two years ago. Nice guy and all that, but clearly not cut out for his daddy’s job.

    The Sun-Times, in a ridiculous bit of rationale (as the paper pandered to its audience), endorsed Stroger with this caveat: hey, if Todd is as disastrous as folks fear, then we will assign an extra reporter to cover his missteps!

    Now it’s 2008, Stroger’s been worse than the worst fears and amidst the Sun-Times’ layoffs and other cutbacks, I question if it has lived up to that dubious assurance of providing “double coverage.”

  7. Matt-I couldn’t agree more with you. I don’t like either candidate. Obama-Rezko deal stinks. I fully understand that our campaign financing system stinks. It forces good candidates to get into bed with with Rezko types. I can forgive that under the premise that thats what you have to do to get where you want to get to do the good that you want to do. However, this Rezko real estate deal boils down to personal greed on Obama’s part. Factor in the pass the media has given him (I bet 9 of 10 people could tell you specifics on teh Rezko real estate deal) and I wonder what else we don’t know about Obama. One thing that I have learned in life that the best indicator of future behavior is past behavior. I like Obama because he represents change, but thats the only thing I like and we as the American public have bought faster than snake oil off the back of a covered wagon.

    McCain-seems like a good man but, the war issue, the economy, gun control, abortion…4 more years of Bush. McCain doesn’t and can’t connect with the common guy or his struggles. Factor in he is 72 years old and his running mate is completely unqualified and has a questionable background (trooper gate and book banning)and thats why

    for the first time in 20 years I am staying home on November 4.

  8. Thanks for saying what no one else has the guts to say. Stroger should be impeached, Barack needs to be held to a much higher standard (and he’s not thanks to the liberal media) and thank you, Carol Marin, for pointing out that nothing has changed in Cicero.

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