Bobbie Steele recommends son as her replacement

Thursday, November 23, 2006

The family of interim Cook County Board President Bobbie Steele has a lot to be thankful for on Thanksgiving. She is about to step down as a county commissioner and a deal is in the works to appoint her son as her replacement.

Bobbie Steele took over the county board presidency from the incapacitated John Stroger in August. She will be replaced in early December by Stroger's son, Todd -- the winner of the November election. But Steele was also on the November ballot, winning another re-election to the county board as a commissioner from the West Side. And now, thanks to the wonders of Cook County politics and pensions, she and her family are enjoying a holiday they can truly be thankful for -- at least until the charges of nepotism and pension abuse start flying.

Bobbie Steele fed traditional Thanksgiving fare to the less fortunate Thursday at a restaurant on the West Side. But she's saving the political plums for herself and her family.

She will be resigning as a Cook County commissioner in the next few days. She may face another round of nepotism charges by asking Democratic Party leaders on the West Side to appoint her 45-year-old son, Robert -- a Chicago Park District administrator who has been active in half a dozen community development projects over the years.

"To replace my mom would be something very challenging but it is something I can live up to," said Robert Steele, Bobbie Steele's son.

"There is too much nepotism in Illinois politics. You have to be a relative of somebody to hold public office and I think that's wrong and it's not a very healthy in a democracy," said Commissioner Forrest Claypool, (D) Chicago.

"He was David's son. So if it's considered tradition, so be it," said President Bobbie Steele, (D) Cook County Board

Bobbie Steele's decision to give up her $85,000-a-year commissioner's seat, also means her pension will be based on a salary of $175,000 a year for the last four months. So she'll be collecting an additional $65,000 immediately. If she lives to be 85, the difference between the two pensions will be about a million dollars.

"It's a loophole but certainly not the first one. The politicians have rigged the system to benefit themselves the most," said Claypool.

"I don't want anyone to think that I'm a bandit, that I m taking something and running. That is not me. I did not make the law and if I become the beneficiary of it. It is my own doing," said Steele.

Bobbie Steele is probably hitting a bigger pension jackpot than most politicians because she will end up being county board president for just over four months. But that's how the system works. The county is filled with retirees who collect pensions from two, three or four jobs with different branches of government.

As for the charge of nepotism, she is following a grand tradition that includes big names like Daley, Burke, Madigan, Hynes, Lipinski and Stroger. It is ultimately up to the voters do decide who's qualified and who's not.

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