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Stroger's Swan Song

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Cook County Board President Todd Stroger talks about his term in office, his family legacy and what his father what say of his accomplishments.

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There were hands to shake, hugs to make, trash to toss and keepsakes to box up this Friday, Todd Stroger's last full day as president of the Cook County Board.

Politicians collect heaps of stuff during their times of office, but for Stroger, the memories and mementos stretch nearly a generation.

"Just some old time faces," Stroger said to himself as he looked over a program of the 1998 inauguration of his father, John Stroger, who held the same position for the better part of 16 years.

John Stroger suffered a stroke in 2006, which led to the political ascension of his son.

It was a short stay at the top for Todd Stroger, who'd expected to serve two terms in office.

"Eight years," Stroger said Friday. "My thought was if you couldn’t accomplish anything in 8 years it was time to go anyway.”

And yet, Stroger seldom seemed to catch the breaks he wanted during his one term, despite cutting the county workforce by 12 percent, balancing four budgets and plugging a $500 million deficit when he first came to office.

"There was such an unfairness with the media," he said. "The media always made it seem like we were getting pummeled by the other side."

It's a spin cycle that Stroger laments he could never control. He got hammered for patronage hires and the penny-on-the-dollar sales tax he championed.

"Taxes are not popular," he concedes. "But that one penny really helped save the system."

Stroger calls the sales tax hike the greatest single accomplishment of his term.

"I think our legacy as a family is of good service, of trying to meet people's needs, especially people who don't have a lot and need government," he said when asked of his legacy.

Politically gritty, John Stroger used the "have-nots" of Cook County to build a powerful base over the course of his nearly four terms. But his son's style was unassuming, and Todd Stroger wishes he would have counter-punched sooner.

It's perhaps his biggest regret, but he's not going to dwell on it.

"I’m not looking backwards. I’m only looking forward," he said.

Stroger doesn't rule out a return to politics one day, but said he'll only make a run if it's for a higher office. For now, his plans include doing some insurance work and starting up a consulting and lobbying business.

Chicago Ald. Toni Preckwinkle will be sworn in Monday.

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