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Steinberg: A tough choice is better than no choice

My wife had to leave the house early Tuesday — 4:48 a.m. to be exact — because she’s an assistant attorney general, and thus half of one of the 170 teams that Lisa Madigan scattered across Illinois to keep an eye on polling places.

She would, she told me, vote when she got back. But she didn’t know the issues in Northbrook. Neither did I. Don’t worry, I said, “I’ll find out and brief you.”

So I did some digging. Very quickly identifying the key issues and races to be resolved in the old leafy suburban paradise: Nothing.

No candidates running opposed. No referendums. There is one school district with four candidates running for three slots, but that is District 31 and we’re in 28.

Given the epic slugfest in Chicago, with class, race, ethnicity and economics all rumbling the pillars of democracy, that’s just sad but not unique to Northbrook. Cook County Clerk David Orr says 63 percent of candidates ran unopposed in suburban Cook County.

Which left me wondering, for the first time in my life, “Why vote at all?” It’s tough enough to pretend your vote has meaning during a presidential race. This is empty symbolism.

Are people in Northbrook contented or just apathetic? I phone Sandy Frum, the village president of Northbrook, and ask.

She laughs.

“I would prefer to believe that things are going well, as they tend to do in our community,” she says. “I hate to think people are indifferent or complacent.”

Controversies have emerged in the past. “I’m a challenger to the status quo,” Frum says. “I didn’t like the direction the sitting president was taking the village, and I decided it was time to step up. Six years ago, there were three of us running.”

I tell her that my readers treat our village with sneering contempt, as if our lives were handed to us on a silver platter and all we have to do is decide which petit four to pluck off the tray while smiling fate dabs crumbs from the corners of our mouth with a perfumed napkin.

“It’s not true, people do struggle,” she says. “We have our share of issues. I have to admit, it’s easier to deal with issues from a position of strength.”

Good fortune isn’t just a matter of money.

“I think it’s good management versus a wealthy community,” she says. “Wealthy communities have issues. I would prefer to say we are well managed.”

My issue was whether to cast a ballot.

Who am I fooling? I dutifully trot off to the polls — through my backyard, over a pine-needled berm past the public vegetable garden and into our red brick Village Hall. It was just past 7 a.m. No voters.

“Get in line,” says Jill Shakian, an election judge, gesturing to the three empty voting booths and two empty electronic ballot stations. She says there had been exactly one voter since the polls opened at 6 a.m. I’m the second.

Normally a traditionalist, I pick electronic voting. I like making the big fat green check mark. As I go through the ballot, unexpected controversy pops up. The Oakton Community College District 535. “Not more than two” the ballot instructs, and there are five names. I do what voters always do in this situation, choose the names I like: the regal Theresa Bashiri-Remetio and the European Benjamin Salzburg. Democracy’s fierce torch, shining brightly.

One of the great, under-appreciated Dr. Seuss books is “I Had Trouble Getting to Solla Sollew.” It tells of a journey toward this wonderful place where “they never have troubles, at least very few.” As the book unfolds, you get the strong impression that you really don’t want to be in Solla Sollew. You want to be back in the real world, where there are troubles, facing them, living life.

Did I tell you that my youngest boy goes off to college in the fall? He does. Maybe four years from now, readers will have to come up with a better counter-argument than “You don’t live here so shut up.”