Much like Forest Claypool was in the primaries against incumbent John Stroger, Tony Peraica, the Republican candidate for Cook County Board President, calls himself a reform candidate who says he wants to push county government in the right direction.
Top on the agenda for Peraica, who is currently Cook County Commissioner for the 16th district, is eliminating the corruption, lack of transparency and a bloated payroll he believes have made Cook County a laughingstock nationwide, and replacing those things with an efficient, transparent government that works for the people.
Peraica chatted with Windy City Times about his plans to freshen up county government, being painted as a right-wing extremist and his actions regarding the Gay Games resolution.
Windy City Times: What can you bring to the table that both Stroger and his father could not?
Tony Peraica: I think there's a clear distinction between completely different philosophies of government. Todd Stroger was picked as a son of John Stroger and that's really his main claim to fame—to preserve the status quo and protect his patronage army brought onto the payroll. There were 1,400 of them, actually, after John Stroger's stroke by his chief of staff, and many, many others before. John Stroger placed numerous committeemen on the payroll, and that's why they voted to replace him with his son, as a favor to John Stroger over far superior Democratic candidates. He is the protector of the status quo, [ and a protector of ] the patronage-laden payroll, the insider deals, the no-good contracts, the political donors who have donated $1 million to his father and contractors who do business in the county.
I, on the other hand, represent reform of Cook County government, along the lines of what Forrest Claypool advocated in the primaries. Namely, [ I want ] to restructure the entire county government; to open it up and democratize it; and to provide transparency and inclusion, rather than exclusion. We need to get rid of the bloated payrolls; to restructure these departments so they operate more efficiently and cost-effectively; and to lower taxes and to eliminate the corruption, which is pervasive throughout the county government as we can see now. Two grand juries [ are ] being [ held ] for job rigging, contract fraud, overtime abuse and abuse of juveniles in the juvenile detention facility. It's just a mess, and we've become a national embarrassment. That's not the way it should be.
WCT: Many gay voters voted for Claypool in the primaries because their main priority was eliminating corruption.
TP: That's what this campaign is all about. It's about bringing dignity and respect to the county, which is the second-largest county in the United States of America. It's about straightening out our fiscal policy and putting it in order, so we don't have these huge tax increases. Forrest Claypool, I and other like-minded reform commissioners on the board ( nine of us ) stopped over $400 million in new tax increases that John Stroger imposed, each year claiming that the world would come to an end unless we enacted these taxes. It didn't! Everything is moving along, and I think it would move along a lot better.
My opponent is trying to divert the attention from corruption, from all these people around him who have either been indicted or arrested or are under FBI investigation and I could name you a half dozen of them off the top of my head to these other social issues, that I'm a 'right-wing extremist' that would set the clock back and do all these radical things. In fact, my 49 years on this planet indicate just the opposite. I am a person who came here as an orphan at the age of 11. I had to work for everything that I ever got in my life, and I'm a live-and-let-live person who respects all human beings and firmly believes in our U.S. Constitution that provides equal protection for all under the law. That is something that I firmly believe. I would protect the rights of individuals, regardless of their ethnicity, racial background, nationality, religion or sexual orientation, for that matter, because I think that we are all children of God, and we all deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.
It's a conscious effort by his handlers to divert the attention away from what really matters, and to try to bamboozle voters into thinking that the issues are what they are really not. If you talk to any objective observer of county government, they would tell you that guns, gays and abortion are not within the jurisdictional purview of the county board of commissioners of the county board president. These are issues that are reserved under our Constitution for the state legislature and the federal legislature. County government doesn't hold regulatory jurisdiction for any of those issues. I have stated repeatedly, at any chance that I had, that I would not do anything that's not in keeping with the law involving abortion at Cook County facilities, because that is the law of the land. I've stated repeatedly that I would not do anything to change the provision of health benefits and other benefits to same-sex partners of Cook County, because that was there before I was on the board, and will continue to be after I get elected as county board president.
As far as guns are concerned, we have no ability to affect that issue. We have volumes of laws on the books already regulating weapons and assault weapons, and I think in a metropolitan county like Cook, it's reasonable to have safeguards; checks and balances; waiting laws and licenses; and regulations for ownership of guns, and that would certainly continue. But that's something that the state legislature will decide in Springfield. It won't be the Board of Commissioners or the county board president. It's just a diversionary tactic that I think voters are beginning to see through. They're focusing on their real estate taxes going up, year after year after year. They're focusing on these corrupt practices.
The whole thing is just embarrassing, and we could do a whole lot better. I look forward to the challenge of straightening out this mess that has been created for decades because we have had, effectively, a one-party rule. I look forward to working with people like Mike Quigley, Forrest Claypool, Larry Suffredin…to bring some respect and dignity and sound financial practices to this county government.
WCT: If elected, what is one of the first steps that you would take in order to start this process of creating accountability and eliminating corruption?
TP: We have this $3.1 billion government organized into three bureaus and 97 departments. We need to streamline this operation by consolidating these duplicative departments and managerial levels into a manageable structure that would be reflective of good business practices that are utilized in other large commercial enterprises. We need to, number one, consolidate the human resource function, to one central location where you can open up the process of hiring so everyone has a fair chance to get a job at the county government based on their ability, education and work experience, rather than their political connection. Number two, we need to streamline and centralize the payroll function. Eighty percent or more of the county budget is related to payroll, payroll benefits and pensions. We need to consolidate the payroll function so we can eliminate these ghost employees, overtime fraud [ and ] people not working in their job classification. We've got a mess here that's been created just to protect political pay-rollers. We need to take care of that immediately, because that's where 80 percent of our money is going. Those are the two things that I would go about doing immediately … so we can have some accountability and oversight in this process.
WCT: I know healthcare reform is very important to you. How do people with HIV/AIDS factor into this?
TP: We have a special facility, the CORE facility, that's located on Harrison Street, that treats people who are HIV-infected. I think we have to be a lot more proactive in terms of education, in terms of treatment and in terms of after-care, to make sure that we minimize the level of expenditure by trying to treat this at the front end, rather than allowing the situation to develop into a major health crisis where we have to spend [ possibly ] hundreds of thousands of dollars to treat individuals who are infected. I think education-like proactive activities, like going out into the community with a sound program that's well-recognized by national experts who deal with the problem up front through education, is the way to do it.
Also, I want to have a dialogue with members of the gay and lesbian community. They are members of this community and the Cook County community is as diverse as any in the world. We've got probably all nationalities, religions and ethnic groups represented; it's really a microcosm of the world. That's what makes us an interesting place, a valuable place, as we need to respect our differences among us and act with civility and dignity and respect for all.
WCT: Now, you've told me that you believe in equality for all, but there are some in the community who have concerns over you removing your name from the Gay Games resolution. I was wondering if you could go into what happened, and your plans to provide equality for all if you are elected.
TP: Being a representative of … the western suburbs of Cook County, I have a responsibility to represent the views of the district that I represent. Being a county commissioner from one of 17 districts is one thing, and being a county board president representing all of Cook County is something entirely different. As a Cook County board president, I would have an open-door policy for all communities that make up Cook County, and I would provide equal protection under the law for all individuals. Representing one district is entirely different from representing the whole. What happened with that situation with the resolution involving Gay Games [ is that ] Commissioner [ Mike ] Quigley introduced it. It appeared on the calendar, and my name was added to that resolution. I wasn't on the floor at that time, and someone asked unanimous consent to add names of all commissioners. I found out about it a couple of days after it happened, and I simply asked the secretary to remove my name because I felt that the community that I represented was not in keeping with that resolution. It wasn't a changed vote. I never voted for it. That calendar is kind of at the end of the county board agenda, and is adopted en masse. … It was something that was not that I was vociferous in my opposition. It was one of those procedural matters that does not indicate, overall, my philosophy. I felt that the district that I represented was not in keeping with that resolution. Being a county board president is something entirely different. I would have the obligation to represent equally all interests and all communities that make up Cook County, including the gay and lesbian community.
I've never acted in a discriminatory way toward anyone. In fact, I have worked with the members of the gay and lesbian community; in fact, when my wife and I were just married, I lived off of Briar and Halsted … I worked with them within the hospitality industry when I was in college. I worked with them when I was at the First National Bank of Chicago when I was going through college and law school. I have no problem working with anyone. As one who was orphaned by the age of 11 and came here as a 13 year-old and had to kind of work my way though life, and nothing was given to me … you come into contact with the diversity of our community. I think I have the demeanor and the intelligence to respect differences among people.
WCT: Are there any other issues that are close to your heart that we haven't touched on yet?
TP: The philosophy that I would bring to the county board president office is one of openness and transparency and consideration of all views. I thrive on that diversity, I think, because it provides for an excellent discussion and debate, and provides for different philosophies, views and perspectives. We have six attorneys on that board who all bring different skills and backgrounds to the task.
My goal would be to have an open-door policy, to have a process where these types of issues would strengthen the process, would strengthen the effectiveness of what we do with this $3.1 billion budget, and deliver the level of services to the community on a proactive basis that would be more based on the actual needs on the ground rather than based on some political consideration. Taxpayers' funds aren't being efficiently used, but are in fact, being abused for some political purposes. In the final analysis, all of us are recognizing now that [ it is something ] we can no longer continue to do.
See votetony06.com for more information regarding Peraica's campaign.