Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Statesman for a moment

Posted By on 02.20.08 at 10:06 PM

Remember Tony Peraica?

He’s the Republican nominee for state’s attorney who waited about four seconds after first-time candidate Anita Alvarez won the Democratic primary before he began attacking her, charging that she's a product of the machine and a big reason the county's criminal justice system has been “turning a blind eye to corruption and putting politics over public safety.”

He’s the county commissioner who last summer tried to get his colleagues to pass a vote of no confidence in the “failed” administration of county board president Todd Stroger. When he came up short, he ripped the commissioners who opposed him. “By voicing confidence in Stroger, they are saying loud and clear they support the rampant corruption in County government, the hiring of Stroger's political cronies, the utilization of the County budget as a political payback tool, the continued third-world conditions at Stroger Hospital, and Stroger's support for a property tax increase,” said the press release he issued.

And of course he’s the guy who lost to Stroger after a bitter, tightly contested campaign in the fall of 2006, then led supporters on a bizarre election night march on the county elections office.

Peraica isn't known for the delicacy of his words or politics.

Yet as commissioners traded insults at the Cook County Board meeting Wednesday, he was the one trying to play statesman, urging everyone to put county residents ahead of their personal politics and to cease the harsh rhetoric. “I think we need to put away the egos and the testosterone that’s flowing through everybody’s veins here and get down to work,” he told his colleagues.

The board has until the end of the month to hash out a budget. The volleys hurled Wednesday suggest it’s going to be a challenging week.

At the beginning of the meeting, Stroger reiterated his argument that the county has to raise more revenues—he’s proposed a sales tax hike—so it can continue to provide desperately needed health services to the indigent. “But the only thing some members of this board are willing to pay for is lip service,” he said, singling out north-side commissioners Forrest Claypool, Mike Quigley, and Larry Suffredin.

Claypool countered that Stroger’s last budget had eviscerated the county’s system of neighborhood clinics even as he hired cronies for administrative jobs. “You view this system as a patronage dumping ground.”

“I sure do wish I could wave a magic wand and everything would be great in one day, but I can’t,” Stroger said. “It takes hard work.”

Stroger’s allies seemed to understand how lame that sounded, so they began jumping to his defense. “Are there people who’ve been appointed by you?” commissioner John Daley, the mayor’s brother, asked Stroger rhetorically. “Yes, there are. It’s the prerogative of the executive. The mayor does the same thing in the city of Chicago. Governor Blagojevich does it. There is a double standard here. People are after you. People want your job because they lost it last time.”

“There’s not that many political hacks in Cook County,” argued south-side commissioner Deborah Sims.

William Beavers weighed in too. “We’ve got someone in this room who used to be the chief of staff for the mayor—that is a political appointment. That is a patronage job,” he said. “Or they come out of a ward office—they were on staff for an alderman. Those were patronage jobs. You know who these people are? They’ve been born again. They’re born-again sinners.”

That’s when Peraica asked for the chance to speak and surprised most of the room by calling for an end to the rancor. “We need to stop the partisanship—it’s not going to get us anywhere,” he said.

But Peraica is, after all, Peraica, and even his appeal for collegiality had to include a few jabs at those who weren’t interested in his brand of it. “This is about people who want clean, honest government and those who believe in taxing and spending exponentially,” he said.

To his credit, Stroger got in the spirit of things and promised he was sort of willing to work with everyone. “I believe my comments have been mild compared with some of the things that have been said,” he told the board. “I haven’t even thrown stones yet.”

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