Stroger Blames Zell, Bad Data For Low Poll Numbers

11/10/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Cook County Board President Todd Stroger downplayed his dismal approval rating in a Tribune/WGN poll Thursday and alleged that the low numbers were part of a "smear campaign" waged by the paper and its owner.

A story on the poll published in Thursday's Tribune pegged Stroger's approval rating at 10 percent. The Board President wasted little time trying to discredit the results.

"I'm not surprised by the ongoing smear campaign this paper mounts against me in their editorial pages," Stroger said in a statement. "This paper's owner, Sam Zell, after all, poured over $75,000 in the final weeks of the last primary into the campaign coffers of Forrest Claypool, and has made no secret that the Stroger name is loathed by the editorial pages."

Zell contributed $75,000 to Forrest Claypool's 2006 run for Board President.

The Tribune/WGN poll surveyed 300 registered voters in Cook County. It was conducted Aug. 27-31 by Market Shares Corp. and has an error margin of 6 percentage points.

Stroger spokeswoman Chris Geovanis took aim that validity of the poll numbers, saying too little information about the respondents was provided. The Tribune did not release the raw data behind its numbers.

"We don't know the income breakout or the geography of the people polled," Geovanis told the Huffington Post. "We don't know if it was likely voters or just registered voters, and those are very different constituencies. And a 6 percent error margin sounds a little sketchy to me."

Stroger's statement referenced internal polling data that "severely conflicts with the so-called 'data' that the Chicago Tribune is publishing in this poll..." However, Geovanis would not release that poll or elaborate on the details.

Scandals and a controversial sales tax increase have marred Stroger's run as board president. Cook County has the highest sales tax rate in the country, and Stroger has successfully beaten back three Board efforts to roll it back. He argues that the tax hike is necessary to fund essential County services.

Stroger's personal hiring of Tony Cole, a former busboy who was given a lucrative administrative job then fired after he was found to be a felon, damaged Stroger politically. So did forcing the resignation of his cousin Donna Dunnings, formerly the county's chief financial officer, in part for bailing Cole out of jail, which hurt his popularity and led Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez to open an investigation.

Stroger faces several challengers in his bid for re-election. Ald. Toni Preckwinkle (4th), Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown, Metropolitan Water Reclamation District President Terrence O'Brien and U.S. Rep. Danny Davis -- all Democrats -- have announced their intention to oust Stroger from the seat his father, John H. Stroger Jr., held until his death in 2006.

Particularly troubling for Stroger, who in the past has relied heavily on support from African American voters, are the Tribune/WGN poll numbers that find only about 1 in 5 African American voters approve of the job he is doing or want to see him re-elected. More than half, the poll found, oppose him.

Geovanis contested those numbers, as well, arguing that the only 81 African Americans polled was too small a sample from which to draw definitive conclusions.

Three of Stroger's challengers are African American -- Preckwinkle, Brown and Davis -- and all are actively courting the black vote.

Stroger, Preckwinkle, Brown, O'Brien and Davis appeared in front of Democratic committeeman Thursday seeking to be slated as the party's nominee for Board President. Read lengthy excerpts of Stroger's remarks here.