It’s hard to choose the most useless politician in the gaping maw of Cook County government. But we’re homers. We’re going with our very own Cook County Commissioner Earlean Collins.

Never had much use for Collins. Not as a state legislator. Not as a Cook County commissioner. Near as we can tell, she does nothing. To her credit, doing nothing keeps her from being indicted – an accomplishment in Chicago and Cook County.

We might’ve given her credit for just showing up at meetings and voting. But last week – when Oak Park and the West Side really needed to be represented at the county board at a time this bloated, corrupt, pathetic government was choosing to continue picking our pockets with its sales tax grab – Collins only showed up.

She didn’t vote. Not in the traditional sense. No reflection of a choice, a position, a declaration, an indication of courage or, at least, a pattern of brain waves. In the most crucial vote of recent times, our Cook County commissioner voted “present.”

How insulting is this to all of us paying an added penny on every dollar to support this failed government? And then, seemingly because all the pressure of caving had done her in, Collins issued a challenge to us mopes who automatically re-elect Democratic incumbents in this county: “You want to vote me out of office? Hooray. I would just love to go home for once in my life and relax.”

Earlean, listen up: We want to vote you out of office. We plan to work at it.

After a career of living off the public paycheck – $85,000 as a commissioner, $76,000 in pensions as a state legislator – you’re not expected to have the decency to simply retire at the age of 70. You’ll have to be defeated in a primary.

Who’s up for this challenge? Oak Park is certainly game to add a progressive voice to the county board. The question is whether the West Side is ready to throw off the shackles of Democratic hacks and elect a real leader. Who’s it going to be?

Containing the Ike

These are intense political days in the state and federal governments. In Illinois, our primary focus is waiting to see if state legislators will vote against their perverted self-interest and pass anything approaching a real reform package.

Simultaneously, though, a combination of local, state and federal political and financial machinations is moving the rebuilding and possible expansion of the Eisenhower Expressway to the front burner.

In Oak Park and Forest Park, we care about this because a speed-up in funding to rebuild the Ike crystallizes the battle between the devastating concept of adding more lanes through these towns for auto and truck traffic and the right idea of taking this moment to invest in light-rail public transit.

There are powerful and conflicting forces at work here. The Illinois Department of Transportation likes to build highways – the bigger the better. Oak Park, partly through its Cap the Ike lever, is working with other towns, and interestingly with DuPage County, to foster public transit as an alternative to more lanes.

That state and federal capital spending is exploding as part of the recession stimulus package may put this fight into the fast lane.

If you care about the Maze branch of the library, the Oak Park Conservatory, Rehm Pool, about containing the Ike to the current gorge, then pay attention here.

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