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Red Dead Light Redemption

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Red Dead Light Redemption
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The race for Cook County Board President made The New York Times this weekend. The issue: red light cameras.

Said cameras “have become a hot issue on the campaign trail and have even drawn federal scrutiny in a trend reflecting the populist outrage of this political season.” Hell hath no fury like a Tea Party motorist scorned.

In June, the county board passed an ordinance approving the installation of 20 cameras on county roads in the suburbs. The county expects the one-year pilot program to raise $2 million in revenue, but some village presidents are outraged. Schaumburg, which is targeted for six cameras, has threatened legal action, questioning whether the county has the authority to set up a ticket-issuing camera in a municipality. (Schaumburg had its own hugely-profitable camera near Woodfield Mall, but removed it after protests from drivers.)

Ald. Toni Preckwinkle told the Times that “she supported the county plan, but believed local communities should have a say in where the cameras were placed.”

Preckwinkle’s Republican opponent, former state Sen. Roger Keats, says he would cancel the red-light camera program, calling the cameras “a tax increase” that threatens public safety by increasing rear-end collisions as drivers slam on the brakes to avoid having their photos snapped.

Keats also believes the board went on a suburban camera kick to compensate for the fact that most Chicago cameras are in minority areas.

“If you take a look at where the red light cameras are in Chicago, and you put a template over black and Latino neighborhoods, you’ll find far more on Martin Luther King than Archer Avenue,” Keats said.

In fact, according to maps, there are more cameras on the North Side than the South Side, which makes sense, because the North Side is more densely populated and heavily trafficked. Keats may have a personal bias, because he received a red-light ticket at 48th Street and King Drive.

 “The picture clearly shows I was entering the intersection on a yellow light,” Keats said. “I contested it, and they said, ‘I don’t care.’”

Complaining that red light cameras discriminate against minorities may be the only way to turn this into a wedge issue. It may resonate in the suburbs, but plenty of suburbanites were going to vote for Keats anyway. Chicagoans, who are already papered over with red-light tickets, won’t care that suburbanites have to pay the same fines. They may figure it’s only fair.

Keats eventually paid his $100 fine, figuring that was easier than fighting on. In the unlikely event that he’s elected county board president, he’ll be able to get his revenge on the red-light cameras. Until that hellishly wintery day, pay on.

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