Stroger defends new job at City Hall

May 20, 2014

AP/File
Former Cook County Board President Todd Stroger - a self-described “lightning rod” for controversy - is defending his newest gig at City Hall, despite criticism about bad political optics.

He’s tried selling life insurance, peddling overseas medical procedures and working for a trucking company.

But now, former Cook County Board President Todd Stroger - a self-described political “lightning rod” - is defending his latest gig: working as a consultant to an influential aldermen at Chicago’s City Hall.

Despite the controversies that have surrounded him since leaving office in 2011, Stroger told WBEZ on Tuesday that he believes he’s more than qualified to work as a consultant for his one-time political ally, 21st Ward Alderman Howard Brookins.

“Are you kidding? I think I deserve a better job than this,” Stroger said when asked whether he was qualified for the $25,000 consulting contract work, pointing to his long career in city, county and state government.

“I don’t think anybody ever asked Mayor Daley what makes him qualified to do the five things he’s doing now,” Stroger said, referring to longtime Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, who has held down several paying jobs since leaving office in 2011. “[Look] at my resume, which most people don’t. I think most people, especially the newspapers, look at my last name. And then they say, ‘Oh, well he’s a Stroger, so he shouldn’t be qualified for anything.’”

Brookins has taken heat for Stroger’s hiring, as first reported last week by the Chicago Sun-Times.

The alderman is facing his own controversy, after his former chief of staff was charged in February with taking a $7,500 bribe.

Meanwhile, Stroger’s own time in office was marred by scandals and bad press, and his name has popped up again more recently after two of his top aides were found guilty of corruption charges. Stroger’s boyhood friend, Eugene Mullins, was sentenced in March to more than four years in prison for his role in a kickback scheme. And in April, Stroger’s former Deputy Chief of Staff, Carla Oglesby, was sentenced to more than six years in prison for steering sham county contracts to companies she controlled.

Stroger, who has not been accused of breaking the law, said he didn’t know anything about his former top aides’ illegal activities.

“If people going to jail is how every executive is being measured, than I think every executive in the county and in the city is gonna be in trouble,” he said Tuesday.

Despite the scandals, Stroger - who has also been a state lawmaker and an alderman - said Brookins reached out to him about coming back to the the public sector.

“I like government,” Stroger said. “So that is really what I know, and I know it very well.... So I’ve always been looking for something to give back and use those skills to really help the community.”

While he’s still working out the details, Stroger said he’ll be working for Brookins on issues relating to public health and crime prevention. He said he hopes to stop violence in Brookins’ South Side Auburn Gresham ward by connecting with police commanders, church leaders and block clubs there.

Brookins’ office did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday afternoon.

Stroger said it’s been tough since he left Cook County. He made headlines when he filed for unemployment benefits after losing the 2010 Democratic primary to current Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle. Since then, Stroger said he dabbled in medical tourism; worked to find clients for a trucking company; and is currently selling life insurance.

“It’s been very hard finding work,” Stroger said.  “And I can literally tell you that the word has gone out that - ‘Don’t hire Todd Stroger.’”

Alex Keefe is political reporter at WBEZ. You can follow him on Twitter and Google+.