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Peraica to give Stroger a run, GOP signs of life

Wednesday, March 30, 2005
Chicago Sun-Times

This Saturday, Anthony J. Peraica will finally make it official. He will hold a rally in downtown Chicago and announce that he is going after John Stroger's job. That will make Peraica, a Republican, the first declared candidate for president of the Cook County Board.

Peraica, who lives in Riverside, is already a Cook County commissioner for the western suburbs, not to mention the committeeman for Lyons Township.

This could actually herald a lively 2006 election season at the Cook County Board. For decades, the words "lively" and "Cook County Board" almost never found their way into the same sentence. This is an elective body that has charitably been described in years past as a place where old politicians go to die. Or at the very least disappear.

But in the last few years, a rare and welcome bipartisan boldness of a few commissioners has crept in like a virus, beginning with the election of Democrat Mike Quigley back in 1998.

Quigley, joined by fellow Democrats Forrest Claypool and Larry Suffredin, has become a persistent Democratic thorn in John Stroger's side.

Tony Peraica has been the Republican cross Stroger has had to bear.

They are the reason there have actually been budget battles for the last two years at the County Board. And that rubber-stamp assembly, saints be praised, is now actually looking a lot like a legislative body, debating the seemingly intractable issues of patronage-choked payrolls and scandalous waste.

But before I get too carried away here, allow me to throw some cold water on my own excitement about the possibility of a real, meaningful, issue-driven election in which two political parties engage in a genuine contest for your vote and mine.

A little quiz.

When was the last time a Republican headed county government?

Answer: 37 years ago.

That was when Richard Ogilvie had the job before he became governor.

Next question.

How many Republicans have held countywide office here in the last 30 years?

Answer: only three.

They were Cook County State's Attorney Bernard Carey back in the early 1970s, Sheriff James O'Grady, elected in 1986, and Cook County State's Attorney Jack O'Malley, who took office in 1990.

Critics can say whatever they want about Stroger, who at 75 has been at the helm of Cook County government for a decade. But nobody should ever be lulled into the notion that running against him, should he decide to run again, will be a cakewalk. It won't be.

Then again, Stroger no longer has the lock on it like he used to or the kind of ironclad ownership with which former County Board President George Dunne once ruled.

Stroger, if he runs, will, unlike 2002, have members of his own party going up against him.

Though Commissioner Michael Quigley hasn't announced yet, he certainly will. "It's not a question of whether, it's just a matter of when," he told me Tuesday. Quigley says he regrets not doing it four years ago when Stroger had no primary opposition. "Everybody needs an opponent, it makes you behave better."

In that case, what about three, four, five Democratic hats in the ring? Other possible contenders include Cook County Assessor Jim Houlihan, Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown, 28th Ward Ald. Ed Smith, not to mention county Commissioner Forrest Claypool.

On the Republican side, Peraica won't be alone either. There is every expectation that fellow Commissioner Elizabeth Ann Doody Gorman of Orland Park will be jumping in. Just these two alone going at it will make for an interesting battle of substance and style.

Peraica's political fortunes were forged out of what I like to call the betrayal & revenge school of Illinois politics. Slated in 2002 for the County Board and supported by the Republican Party, he was politically stabbed in the back by Republican precinct captains on the orders of Ed Vrdolyak, the highly paid stealth strategist of many a suburban race.

Peraica fought back and won anyway. Viewed as brittle and abrasive at times, Peraica minces no words about what he considers the corruption of county politics. He's even jumped into some of the suburban mayor's races in Cicero, Berwyn, Summit and Melrose Park, backing candidates who, in his words, will fight the "Vrdolyak wing" of the Republican Party. He contends his likely opponent, Gorman, is "an operative of Vrdolyak."

Gorman calls that nonsense, that though Vrdolyak is a golf partner of her husband, "I have absolutely no political involvement with Ed."

A Gorman-Peraica faceoff would provide the rarest of moments in Cook County politics: a real Republican primary. Followed by, perhaps, a truly meaningful general election.

Sorry, there I go again getting carried away.



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