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A measure of faith in political change

Wednesday, December 08, 2010
Daily Herald
by Daily Herald Editorial Board

Who would have thought that a blueprint for controlling government excess would come from a Chicago Democrat? Yet, here we have new Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle promising a new era of belt tightening, accountability and openness and, more importantly, laying out specific measurable steps to get there.

Before we get too giddy, we have to acknowledge that we’ve heard this all before. Only four years ago, Todd Stroger gave a “solemn oath” to “reduce excessive staffing,” to “eliminate waste” and to “restore faith in this government.”

We all know how that went.

But there is something about Preckwinkle’s inaugural address that stirs the heart, that beckons faith, that leads us to encourage leaders of the state, other counties and local schools and municipalities to pay heed.

Maybe it’s her relinquishing of 10 percent of her own pay. Maybe it’s the pink slips she immediately handed to three dozen Stroger appointees. Maybe it’s her reiteration of the demand for 21 percent cuts across the board in county departments. Maybe it’s the county procurement data she’s already put up on the Web for all to see, and her promised commitment of even more and deeper transparency of county spending.

Maybe as much as we would have preferred an immediate lifting of the full amount it’s her very specific timetable for elimination of the remaining half of the dreaded 1 percentage-point 2007 sales tax increase.

More likely, it’s the set of her jaw, the fix of her stare and a sincerity of tone that, combined with the actions promised and those already taken, all persuasively suggest this leader means business.

Let’s hope so. It will not be easy, and she will need lots of support.

Let’s face it. Stroger entered office bemoaning a $500 million deficit and, despite his promises and a tax increase that provided more than $200 million a year, left Preckwinkle with a $487 million hole to dig her way out of. We can hardly expect the unions, contractors and moneyed interests that have long dictated the financial terms of running Cook County to go quietly into the good night of responsible management of the taxpayers’ dime.

So, Preckwinkle will have her work cut out for her. But, she and taxpayers will have a valuable resource if the person eventually hired as chief performance officer identifies and upholds standards of professionalism that Preckwinkle says will become a hallmark of county government.

And if it all works indeed, if it all just provides, in Preckwinkle’s phrase, “a beginning” it will be cause for encouragement well beyond the halls of Cook County. For, if a Democrat in that machine-bound metaphor for waste and indifference can effect real change, there’s hope for governments everywhere.



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