On a day when the Chicago Tribune revealed that Todd Stroger's version of the events leading up to his firing of patronage worker Tony Cole didn't match up with records from the Illinois State Police, the beleaguered Cook County board president had had enough.
At an emergency meeting called by County Commissioners Stroger took no questions about Cole, a steakhouse busboy and former basketball star with a lengthy rap sheet whom Stroger hired as a county patronage employee, or Donna Dunnings, his cousin who was the county's chief financial officer until he fired her Friday. And Stroger repeatedly had Commissioner Tony Peraica's mic killed when Peraica tried to raise them.
"It was a bizarre, Stalinist move that I think will cause more harm than it will help," Peraica told the Huffington Post. "This is a typical Nixonian scenario where the cover up will be more damaging than the questionable activities."
At issue is when Stroger learned that Cole's lengthy criminal record included a felony conviction, and why exactly Dunnings twice bailed Cole out of jail while he was a county employee - and then was forced to resign partly for doing so.
Stroger has given differing explanations for both firings, but they all stopped Thursday.
"[Stroger] has told us three different stories," Commissioner Larry Suffredin told the Huffington Post. "He refused to talk about it today, and he's refusing to talk to the press now. A leader has to stand up and tell people what is going on."
Stroger claimed in interviews this week that he fired Cole on April 10, as soon as Cole's background check revealed the severity of his criminal record.
Illinois State Police records, however, show they mailed the completed background check to the county Dec. 20, nearly four months before Stroger fired Cole. Stroger spokesman James Ramos suggested to the Tribune that the report may have gotten lost in the mail.
Suffredin was among the commissioners who called for Thursday's emergency meeting in order to find out who was running the county's financial system and whether Dunnings' abrupt departure could hurt the county's bond rating.
"On this $251 million we're about to borrow, even a slight downgrading by the rating agencies would cost taxpayers $10 million over 25 years," Suffredin said. "That's a lot to pay for one person's private or personal indiscretion."
Stroger has denied that Dunnings did anything improper with Cole or in her official capacity as the county's chief financial officer. Stroger spokesperson Chris Geovanis said Dunnings was "asked to resign in anticipation of this kind of a circus."
"I am not satisfied at all with his explanations," Peraica said. "He is on a campaign of obfuscation. He answered no questions of any substance regarding the 'explosive allegations' surrounding Ms. Dunnings and Tony Cole. He won't stick to one story."
Speaking with Carol Marin on WTTW's "Chicago Tonight" April 20, Stroger said he personally hired Cole in October and that a background check typically takes two to three months to get back from the Illinois State Police. "I suspect they just put us in the queue," Stroger said.
"So you only got word on that last week?" Marin asked.
"Yes," Stroger replied.
Stroger has defied calls for his resignation from Suffredin and Peraica, dismissing them as political hounds.
The meeting today did little to restore either man's confidence in Stroger.
"I've called for his resignation and I continue to call for it," Peraica said. "I have absolutely no confidence in his ability to run the board and his ability to protect the Cook County taxpayers."
Suffredin, for his part, has resorted to poetry.
"It's a tragedy," Suffredin said. "There's a poem I've taken to reciting: How odd of God to give us Rod and Todd. Well, Rod is no longer with us, and I'm hoping we can separate Todd from government. The state deserves better."
Stroger has announced he will seek re-election in 2010, but Suffredin has his doubts that he can win.
"His chances are slim," Suffredin said. "He has become by name the standard for bad government."
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