According to a Chicago Tribune news poll, battered for championing Cook County's sales tax increase and for hiring friends and relatives, Board President Todd Stroger heads into the election season with a strikingly low job-approval rating and thin support from voters, a Tribune/WGN poll has found.
Only 1 in 10 Cook County voters approve of the job he is doing, and just as few want to see him re-elected following a first term marked by tax and hiring controversies, the poll found.
The numbers are lower than the 13 percent Gov. Rod Blagojevich had just months before his December arrest on federal corruption charges.
Even more unpopular than Stroger is the 1 percentage point sales tax increase that he pushed through the County Board and has repeatedly protected by vetoing repeal measures. More than three-quarters of Cook County voters polled said the tax hike should be repealed.
Stroger's poor poll results come as he prepares to pitch his re-election to Cook County Democratic slatemakers at their endorsement session Thursday. Democratic committeemen are expected to hear from up to four potential challengers looking to unseat Stroger in the February primary: Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown; U.S. Rep. Danny Davis of Chicago; Metropolitan Water Reclamation District President Terrence O'Brien; and Chicago Ald. Toni Preckwinkle (4th).
Joseph Berrios, the Cook County Democratic chairman, said the large field of candidates makes an endorsement less likely. "It's going to be tough," he said.
Some Democrats have privately questioned whether Stroger would be a liability on the Democratic ticket for the 2010 general election. The poll found Stroger's support was not much better among Democrats than voters overall.
Fully 70 percent disapprove of the job Stroger is doing, according to the poll of 300 Cook County registered voters. Asked whether they would like to see Stroger re-elected, 72 percent say no.
The telephone poll was conducted Aug. 27-31 by Market Shares Corp. and has an error margin of 6 percentage points. It did not measure support for other potential candidates.
Stroger released a statement criticizing the Tribune poll, saying the sample size was too small and it did not accurately reflect the support he has around the county. Stroger also accused the Tribune of being biased, citing critical editorials in the paper's opinion section.
In a county dominated by Democrats, the survey raises questions about Stroger's ability to muster support for a second term.
Stroger has long counted on African-American support but now faces as many as three other black elected officials in the primary. Only about 1 in 5 African-American voters polled approve of the job Stroger is doing or want to see him re-elected, while more than half oppose him.
In a controversial move, Democratic Party leaders in 2006 chose Stroger, a low-profile alderman and former state legislator, to replace his ailing father on the general ballot. Stroger nevertheless defeated Commissioner Tony Peraica, the Republican candidate.
Stroger persuaded a majority of county commissioners to support a penny-on-the-dollar increase in the county sales tax last year, arguing it was necessary to prevent decimating cuts to the county's vast public-health and criminal-justice systems. He has vetoed three attempts by the board to repeal all or part of the increase.
Critics of Stroger also have frequently blasted him for political hiring in his administration. The highest-profile example was former steakhouse busboy Tony Cole, a former college basketball star whom Stroger personally hired for an administrative post.
Cole, who was making $61,000 a year, was fired in April after less than six months on the job for allegedly lying about his criminal history on his job application. A week later, Stroger forced the resignation of Chief Financial Officer Donna Dunnings, his first cousin and a powerful presence in his administration who had twice bailed Cole out of jail.