Everyone is talking about the upcoming presidential election. Its a duel between a right-wing conservative, born-again president and a liberal, patrician Democrat with a war/anti-war record. And here in Illinois, were enjoying the implosion and resurrection of a Republican senatorial campaign pitting two African-American candidates against one another.
But the race that really affects Winnebago County is the election of the chairman. The Republicans replaced former Winnebago County Board Chairman Kristine Cohn with a super businessman. The appointment came under protest of the Democrat challenger, and to me was reminiscent of the 1972 appointment of Tim Simms as state senator (now, isnt that reaching back into the past?).
Everyone thinks the incumbent is a shoo-in, and the challenger, though earnest and sincere but poor, hasnt got a chance. Which is too bad, because I think the voters of this county should have a chance to change the direction of their government, making it more accessible.
I am not a friend of Scott Christiansen. Mr. Christiansen, a wealthy businessman who enjoys the support of both developers and large unions, seems intent on developing Winnebago County with a series of Perryville roads, suburban shopping malls and cookie-cutter housing developments, all in the name of business.
Unfortunately, he doesnt exercise enough. He should get out to the forest preserves and bike paths that still exist in the county. He should enjoy some fresh air and long walks through Severson Dells, or maybe a canoe trip down the Sugar River. Mr. Christiansen should really learn about the beautiful wild places still left untouched by bulldozers and concrete. But Im afraid that he might envision more urban sprawl where once a meandering creek ran.
His challenger is Paul Gorski, a moderate Democrat from Cherry Valley and apparent sacrificial lamb to the electoral process. He has a moderate stand on development. He does know where the forest preserves are. But Mr. Gorski has little money and even fewer volunteers.
Do you know the County Board runs the Forest Preserve System? Winnebago County Board members vote directly on land to be purchased and set aside. Some counties have separate boards. Some forest preserve boards are elected by the people. Sometimes environmentalists are elected to those boards.
Winnebago County has a wonderful Forest Preserve System. It could be better funded. There are lots of projects, such as protect the Kishwaukee and Pecatonica Rivers, connect more of the preserves and protect some of the rarest prairie patches in the state.
So it would be nice to have a County Board chairman who was more environmentalist than urban sprawl developer.
Wouldnt it be better for the county to use the board chairmans election as a referendum on urban sprawl? Would Mr. Christiansen pay attention? Would he learn something about the greenery of his homeland? Would Paul have a chance to address some of these concerns with the countys most powerful people? Would they even listen?
Im afraid until the citizens who are concerned about urban sprawl get political, pick up their checkbooks and support local elections, we wont be saving much forest for the future.
Stanley Campbell is executive director of Rockford Urban Ministries and spokesman for Rockford Peace & Justice.