I wish Cook County Board President John H. Stroger Jr. a full recovery from the stroke he suffered this week. With all due respect to Stroger, whom I have covered on and off for almost 25 years, I think a Cook County voter deserves to know the answer to this question before Tuesday's balloting:
Will Stroger be fit to serve another term?
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In the next few days, Stroger's campaign needs to release his medical records for an independent third-party evaluation for the voting public. Stroger, 76, is facing a strong Democratic primary challenge from Cook County Board member Forrest Claypool, who is 48.
On Wednesday, Stroger's campaign declared that the message is "full steam ahead'' in the closing days of the primary race, even though the idea that this campaign is now business as usual is absurd. I don't ask this question about determining if Stroger is fit to serve because of his age or his race. I understand this intrudes on his medical privacy, but it is not uncommon for people in public life to disclose their health records.
Candidates for president have opened their medical records when questions have been raised about their health. Doctors for President Bush and former President Bill Clinton routinely make available medical information from annual exams and any physical problems that develop.
With the Illinois primary just days away, I would want to have some detailed medical information about the condition of any candidate, young or old, who is hospitalized for a serious matter -- whether a stroke or hit by a car.
The statement issued by Rush University Medical Center Wednesday said Stroger was able to move "part of his left leg and arm and was able to speak to doctors.'' Stroger's doctor, Robert Simon, said in the statement that he was "cautiously optimistic'' about Stroger's progress and that he was expected to remain in the hospital for the next week.
Simon, however, works for Cook County as well as maintaining a private practice. Nothing against Simon, but I want voters to learn more about Stroger's prognosis from someone not on the county payroll.
There is no chance at all that Stroger will withdraw from the race before Tuesday. But here is what happens if Stroger is nominated and then realizes he is too ill to continue on the job. Instead of the Democratic voters of Cook County deciding on the nominee for board president, it will be a group of 80 Democratic committeemen. That's 50 from the city's wards and 30 from the suburban Cook townships, who will pick the Democrat whose name will be on the November ballot instead of thousands of Democratic voters.
I asked Stroger campaign spokeswoman Anne-Marie St. Germaine if Stroger's medical records could be released for an independent evaluation to determine if he is fit to serve. She told me it was not a campaign question.
Before Stroger's stroke, I was going to devote this column to how the Illinois Democratic senators, Dick Durbin and Barack Obama, are split on this contest. Here's the mini-version.
Durbin is endorsing Stroger and is featured in the Stroger campaign's final ad with Mayor Daley. "I've known John since before I was elected and have worked closely with him on health issues, especially Medicaid reimbursement and asthma. I am supporting his re-election,'' Durbin said in an e-mail. Stroger endorsed Durbin in his first Senate primary in 1996.
Obama is neutral in the primary. But given the race-based nature of politics in Cook County, Obama's neutrality is very helpful to Claypool because it sends a silent signal, intended or not.
The Stroger-Claypool race is a manifestation of a generational transition going on in Cook County politics. There is no one machine anymore; there are mini-machines.
Claypool is part of a growing political orbit that includes Obama and Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.).
Stroger comes from the Daley network and the remnants of the old machine.
Durbin straddles both camps.
But where Stroger gets his support from and who endorses Stroger for the moment are moot. There is one question that needs to be answered before Tuesday: If nominated, can Stroger serve?
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