>REACT: Stroger stroke creates inevitability

>The election eve stroke suffered by Cook County Board President John Stroger may turn out to be a stroke of good luck for Forrest Claypool and Mayor Richard Daley.

Why Daley? After all, isn’t he backing Stroger over his former Chief of Staff? The answer is “yes” … and “no.” Officially, Daley has endorsed his long time African American ally. He had little choice in that. Switching to his close colleague, Claypool, would have set off a “blacklash” that the mayor can ill afford given his increasing scandal-caused vulnerability.

Let there be no mistake. Claypool would not have entered the race without a behind-the-scenes understanding. The optimum situation for Daley is a Stroger defeat without blame. That has been the strategy from day one.

The fact that a number of Daley loyalists have joined the Claypool “insurgency,” including Rahm Emanuel, indicates the tepidity of the mayor’s formal endorsement. The fact that Daley’s favorite campaign consultant, David Axelrod, is managing the Claypool campaign is more than a hint of the mayor’s real sentiment. Daley “captains” in the precincts have not been ordered to push to the limit for Stroger. Expect Daley’s white precincts and wards to “defy” the mayor and cast a ballot for Claypool.

The understanding is that IF Stroger entered the final stretch with a insurmountable lead, Daley would stand tall for the incumbent, and take credit for the victory. On the other hand, IF Stroger is looking vulnerable – say less than a ten point lead – the mayor will pay lip service loyalty to Stroger while releasing the trap door under the county board president’s seat. As the race shaped up, Stroger was looking weak, and the trap door creaking.

This idea of supporting, and then undermining at the last minute (if the climate is right), is not a new trick. Candidates on both sides of the aisle have experienced it — usually resulting in concession speeches.

The mayor talked the talk for Dan Rostenkowski, but his “machine” precinct captains did not walk the walk in Rosty’s district. (They were too busy scuttling the campaing of Glenn Poshard over Daely bud George Ryan). In Rosty’s case, it was not Daley’s opposition to re-election, but a realization that The Chairman was beyond salvation. Though they knew “the numbers” well, the Democrat mouthpieces kept spewing out optimistic predictions to the very end. The compliant Chicago Tribune kindly refrained from publishing earlier polling results that would have foretold the Rostenkowski defeat.

For a GOP example, we only need to recall a visibly shaken and shocked States Attorney Jack O’Malley conceding his election. Three months before, a top Daley “machinist” told me they intended to “take out” O’Malley despite the mayor’s private assurances that they were giving the gullible Republican a pass. I had two meetings with O’Malley’s top campaign aide where I passed along the less than secret information. He scoffed at my report. O’Malley campaigned so confident of victory that he actually slowed down is spending based on bogus polling numbers printed in the Chicago Tribune – a poll my machinist friend claimed they planted “to put O’Malley to sleep.”

The Stroger lead in the recent Tribune poll is no more predictive of the outcome than that old 18 point lead O’Malley trusted. The Stroger stroke will only give the newspaper a more credible explanation for the last minute shift in voter preference.

Now, with Stroger too infirmed to campaign, and likely to debilitated to serve in office, more of the mayor’s clout can surreptitiously tilt the election to Claypool – an election I personally believe he was poised to win anyway – only now it will not be such and upset.

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