Few races on the Feb. 5 primary ballot have more local significance than the race between 28th Ward Chicago Alderman Ed Smith and Eugene Moore for Cook County Recorder of Deeds.

By voting for Smith over Moore, Proviso Township voters can help remove a fading mediocrity from office and cause another mediocrity’s flagging clout to shrivel like a punctured balloon.

Last summer State Rep. Karen Yarbrough, who ended Moore’s reign as Proviso Township committeeman in 2005, toyed with the idea of challenging Moore for the recorder’s position before throwing her support to Smith. Yarbrough is no political innocent, and she’s not to be believed when she says she has no political rivalry with Moore. It’s intense and heated. She’s called Moore an “octopus (that) has more than eight arms,” and rips him for his concerted efforts to assert his political influence in Proviso politics, including control of the school district and other area offices.

Questions remain, though, about just how much of an octopus Yarbrough herself wants to be. If recent word that Yarbrough, who is Smith’s campaign co-chair, is running Smith’s campaign out of her state funded office on Roosevelt Road is factual, she’ll find herself answering to more than just the voters.

But Yarbrough’s dead right about Moore-he’s motivated solely by clout and influence. Back in 1998, County Board President John Stroger twisted enough arms to throw Moore, then a state representative, the recorder’s post after Jesse White was elected secretary of state. White wanted recently-defeated Cook County commissioner and ally Darlena Williams-Burnett as his successor. Stroger eventually struck a deal with White in which Moore got the Recorder’s post while Williams-Burnett became his $81,000-a-year chief deputy.

Since then, Moore has functioned as political mentor to District 209 board President Chris Welch. All taxpayers got out of that arrangement is a recorder’s office that’s an ill-managed joke, and grossly inept oversight of District 209 schools.

Under Welch and Moore’s influence, the district, which ranks dead last out of 90 Cook County districts, has failed miserably at its most basic purpose of educating the township’s children. This paper rightly termed District 209 “an academic horror show,” noting that more than 82 percent of Proviso juniors function below grade-level in math, 84 percent in science, and 75 percent in reading. Lack of money’s not the culprit-District 209 has budgeted a healthy $77.3 million for the 2007-08 school year, ranking well into the upper third of county high schools in per student spending.

The problem is that much of Welch and Moore’s efforts have been directed at their own self interests, not the taxpayers’. People work on Moore and Welch’s political campaigns for no principle loftier than patronage. So it’s not surprising that some janitors at Proviso have been hired at higher salaries than starting teachers with master’s degrees.

As for Moore, the $216,000 per year he’s collected in insurance brokerage fees from Welch’s compliant school board are just a small part of the personal benefits he’s taken out of the high schools. Taken, mind you, with the help of the school board president and the board secretary, Sue Henry, who is Moore’s chief of staff at the county office. One of Moore’s administrative assistants, Brian Cross, was recently appointed to the board, thanks to Welch and Henry.

If Smith is voted in as recorder, Proviso’s political balance shifts hard against Moore, who’s career will be over. Henry and Cross will then have to find new jobs, Welch loses a key ally, and Yarbrough becomes big dog in Proviso.

Time will tell if that’s a positive development, or merely, as Pete Townsend put it, just more “meet the new boss, same as the old boss.”

Smith talks of “making the office of recorder work for its constituents rather than for patronage, and bringing the office into the arena of responsible government.” Hopefully Smith will honor those words. Moore has shown he never will.