b. June 29, 1961 - d. June 19, 2017
Cook County, Commissioner (2006-2017)
After a long battle with diabetes, Robert Steele died of complications from the disease on June 19, 2017.
Robert Steele’s most powerful ally was his mother, former interim Cook County President Bobbie Steele. In 2006, the county president at the time, John Stroger, suffered a stroke and resigned. This announcement ignited a power struggle amongst the Cook County Board as to who would fill the seat until the upcoming election. Bobbie garnered just enough votes from her fellow board members and was elected as interim president, which made her the first female board president in the county’s 175 year history.
But in what was one of the worst kept secrets of the year, Bobbie retired shortly before Todd Stroger, John's son, was sworn in as the new county president. The move doubled Bobbie’s pension because she retired as a president, who receives benefits based off a yearly $170,000 salary, and not a commissioner, whose benefits are based off an $80,000 yearly salary.
Her retirement also left a vacancy on the board that she wanted filled by her son, Robert. Michael Chandler, who was at the time Chicago alderman of the 24th Ward and the leading Democratic committeeman in Bobbie’s district, supported Robert for the position. Chandler called a meeting of 15 committeemen in the basement of his 24th Ward Office but only 4 showed up—the others voted by proxy. Robert’s only challenger for the appointment was former Chicago cop Sheila Vinson, who received support from 28th Ward Alderman Ed Smith. Chandler controlled a majority of the proxies and Robert obtained 14 of the 15 votes. He was immediately sworn in as commissioner.
Before being appointed to the county board, however, Steele filed for bankruptcy as a result to “personal issues.” He told the Chicago Tribune in 2006 that the issue was resolved and didn’t concern the public.
Steele’s appointment to the board came just in time for the unveiling of county President Todd Stroger’s proposed 2007 budget. The $3 billion budget called for the layoffs of hundreds of frontline workers, which included public defenders and sheriff’s police officers, to fill financial gaps without raising taxes. Steele and 11 other commissioners sponsored an alternative plan that would keep many frontline employees by cutting more administrative positions. Steele, however, discovered two of his siblings would lose their jobs if the new plan were approved. In the end, the alternative plan was beaten back and Steele voted for Stroger’s proposed budget.
Employment and Electoral History
Prior to being appointed to the Cook County Board, Steele was a community outreach manager for the Chicago Park District, where he worked for five years. Before that, he was also the executive director of the Lawndale Business and Local Development Corporation.
- Morgan State University, B.S, in Business Administration and Computer Science
Important Political Events
- 2006, Appointed Cook County Commissioner, replacing Bobbie Steele
- 2017, Died in office, succeeded by Dennis Deer