After months of speculation and subtle hints, Cook County Board President John Stroger on Nov. 16 officially announced his plans to seek re-election to a fourth term while strongly suggesting a property tax hike may be looming.

Stroger, flanked by Democratic Party brass such as Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) and Secretary of State Jesse White, focused on the importance of providing health care to the county’s neediest.

“This is a last-resort form of government,” Stroger told a crowd of more than 100 supporters gathered inside downtown Chicago’s Hotel Allegro. “People who come to the county are people who haven’t found help elsewhere.”

The county is expecting less health care support this year from the state and federal governments, Stroger said, meaning the county will have to shoulder more of the burden and find alternative sources of revenue.

Questioned by reporters after the speech, Stroger said his 1994 pledge to prevent property tax increases “may be coming to an end.”

“We are not people who want to squeeze the taxpayer,” Stroger said. “But I’m also responsible to the millions of people in this county, many of whom cannot afford health care. If it takes additional money to keep the hospitals and clinics open. I plan to do what’s necessary to keep those institutions open.”

Stroger did not specifically cite a tax hike to ease the county’s financial woes. But he hinted it may be in the offing since the county will likely be forced to without additional aid from Springfield. He also noted that county taxes are only about 10 percent of a homeowner’s tax bill.

Stroger will face opposition in the March Democratic primary from Commissioners Forrest Claypool and Mike Quigley. Commissioner Tony Peraica, a Riverside resident, is seeking the Republican nomination to face Stroger. All three challengers criticize Stroger for running an inefficient, bloated government.

But Stroger dismissed the criticism, saying his challengers are scrambling for ideas to attack him.

“Some of that opposition will come from people who are out here telling people how bad the patronage system is,” Stroger said. “And each one of the Democrats got their job from some Democratic elected official.”

Peraica said in a statement that he was excited by the prospect of facing Stroger.

“John Stroger’s reign as County Board president has been an unmitigated disaster and embarrassment,” Peraica said. “He should have to answer to the voters for what he has done, and I will make sure he does.”

Claypool, for his part, said Stroger’s focus on the county’s poor is questionable.

“His statements are ironic because he’s the chief executive who has diverted hundreds of millions of dollars away from health care to pay for a massive patronage empire,” Claypool said. “Instead he wants to reach into taxpayers’ pockets to pay for health care.”