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Leadership, not insults, needed at county

Sunday, December 02, 2007
Daily Herald

The rhetoric of Cook County politics has never been particularly inspiring, but it reached Jerry Springer-like depths last week, as commissioners sought in vain ways to balance a $3 billion county budget that overspends by $239 million.
Commissioner William Beavers attracted the most notice for his curious observation that the reason Cook County Board President Todd Stroger can't sell his 2 percent sales tax increase is his race. According to Beavers' thinking, taxpayers and other county commissioners would stomach a 266 percent increase in their sales tax -- a figure that Stroger himself admits is more than is needed -- if the person promoting the scheme were white.
Beavers apparently didn't notice Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, who is white, backpedaling recently on tax increases he proposed to meet the city's budget.
Nor, apparently, has he been watching the stasis in Springfield, where a white governor has been unable to sell a massive business tax increase to a predominantly white legislative leadership, nor they to sell him tax increases they want in order to avoid debilitating cuts in the region's mass transit system.
But Beavers' remarks were hardly the only evidence of the county board's juvenile approach to government by insult. Commissioner Liz Gorman called fellow Republican Commissioner Tony Peraica an "abusive weasel," which elicited the mature response from Peraica that his taunter had "no dignity," while Commissioner Joseph Moreno howled that Peraica was "a jerk."
Is this the type of leadership that gets results?
Well, in eight hours it led the body to trim $1 million out of its overspending, and in a more civil but equally gridlocked session on Friday, the commissioners managed to gut the deficit by another $100,000 or so.
That leaves just $237.9 million to go.
No amount of name calling is going to make that figure just evaporate.
It's going to take a willingness to compromise and a critical examination of all county services, knowing that in the end some services will have to be eliminated and some new revenues will have to be found.
Granted, that is a much easier formula to explain than to apply, and its difficulties unquestionably add to the pressures stirring the rage and personality conflicts among county board members.
But as Commissioner Mike Quigley observed Friday, unless people find a way to work together, "all we're going to do is run reams of paper through our machines, pass them out and throw them in the recycling bin."
It's long past time that Cook County board members, whatever their race, turn to leadership in solving their budget problems, not talk -- and at the very least, much better talk than we've heard thus far.


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