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Steele's parting act full of arrogance and all too common

Sunday, December 03, 2006
Special to

The issue: Interim Cook County Board President Bobbie Steele doubles her pension, breaks promise to fill whole term on county board and urges that son be picked to replace her.

 We say: Until voters demand politicians stop taking advantage of the system, such insulting routines will never stop.

As she walked into the sunset, her stellar four-month career as Cook County Board president behind her, Bobbie Steele paused to pay a double-barreled homage to a political system that always seems to work for the politicians and winds up treating average citizens like chumps.

Steele was a longtime county board commissioner when she was selected earlier this year to serve as interim president after a debilitating illness to three-term President John Stroger. She kept the seat warm for Stroger's son Todd, who was elected president in November and will be sworn in Monday.

Steele also was re-elected to her county board seat last month. But last week, she announced she was resigning as a county commissioner, a shrewd but legal financial move that will allow her to collect a pension based on her $170,000 annual salary as interim president rather than her $85,000 salary as a commissioner. As if that weren't enough, Steele also urged Democratic committeemen to replace her on the county board with her son Robert Steele, who works for the Chicago Park District.

And why wouldn't she? After all, it's become the norm for elected officials to demand their offspring succeed them. Todd Stroger, despite an uninspiring political career, was slated to run for county board president at the behest of his ailing father. Chicago Ald. William Beavers, who will take over John Stroger's commissioner seat, wants his daughter to succeed him on the Chicago City Council. A couple of years ago, U.S. Rep. William Lipinski, of Chicago's Southwest Side, was re-nominated during the Democratic primary, but he decided to retire and got party leaders to replace him on the general election ballot with his son Dan, who easily won election. Names like Madigan, Hynes, Joyce and Daley also dot the multi-generational political landscape.

And now Steele, who earlier said she intended to serve out her term as commissioner, has decided to cash in her pension lottery ticket and turn the keys over to her 45-year-old son, a community outreach manager for the park district. Meanwhile, she will get a pension worth $136,000 a year, twice as much as she would have received if her pension had been based on her job as a commissioner. Plus, she also gets a pension of $13,000 per year for working as a teacher. And consider this: Six of her children also currently work for Cook County.

Steele broke a promise when she said she'd stay on the county board. But why should we ever believe a politician in Cook County? They've been lying to us for years, but where's the anger from the citizens? It's usually nothing more than a shoulder shrug. How demoralizing that is. Steele saw county voters embrace Todd Stroger on Election Day and figured they wouldn't really care if she opened the door for her son and sweetened her piggy bank at the same time by using a General Assembly-approved pension law that allowed her to claim the big bucks. But legal as it may be, there is no way Steele deserved a president's pension for four months on the job -- especially considering that she failed to tackle adequately the biggest issue facing the county: a possible $600 million budget deficit. At least she improved the budgetary outlook within her own household. That will be her legacy.

If the Legislature does nothing else during the next session, it should take off the books that generous pension law that permits these types of pension shenanigans.

But you know what? That probably won't happen. Until voters show their utter disdain for the way political business is conducted in this area, politicians will keep treating us as doormats on which they wipe their feet on their way home from the bank.

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