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Tony Peraica will tell you what the 2010 race for Cook County Board president is not about. "This is not about Tony Peraica," he said.
What it is about, he argues, is kicking Todd Stroger out of office, challenging the "dictatorship" of Mayor Richard M. Daley, reminding voters that they don't have to keep electing tax-and-spend-and-borrow-to-make-up-for-it Democrats, and hopefully revamping and reenergizing the entire Illinois Republican Party.
That's why Peraica said Wednesday that he wasn't bothered by the news that former Chicago schools chief Paul Vallas is planning to run for board president as a Republican—like Peraica did in 2006 and was widely expected to do again next year. "I welcome any Democrat who wants to join the Republican Party," he said.
Count me among those who assumed Vallas's entry into the race would change some of Peraica's plans. In 2006 Peraica, a county commissioner, captured the Republican nomination for board president in a primary that wasn’t exactly fierce, since he was the only candidate in it. He went on to lose a bitter general election race against Democrat Todd Stroger, but by not getting slaughtered, and by spending the next three years reminding people that he was still not Todd Stroger, Peraica appeared to be positioning himself for another run in 2010.
But now he sounds like he wants to step back and make sure there’s a functioning Republican Party to back him, Vallas, or anyone else running for city, county, or state office.
Peraica said he’s “definitely” running for reelection as a county commissioner and the Republican committeeman of Lyons Township. Beyond that, he’s eying the county and state Republican Party conventions scheduled for the first part of 2010. “There will be many options up and down those slates,” he said. “I think we need new leadership—someone who is going to speak the truth and recognize that the biggest political actor in our city, county, and state is Mayor Daley. The mayor’s leadership has been devastating to the local economy and the local political situation because of the pay-to-play system.”
For years, Peraica said, Republicans throughout Illinois have determined it’s more profitable to sign on to the mayor’s plans, such as the 2016 Olympics bid, than to push for smaller government, lower taxes, and a crackdown on corruption. “You’ve got a lot of Republicans who are salivating at the prospect of cleaning up from the Olympics. I don’t think it’s going to happen. All of the recent Olympics have been costly and over budget. I think whole neighborhoods will be displaced. … And among Republicans there is this pervasive fear where they don’t even think they can exercise their freedom of speech because they think Mayor Daley will put a halt to their building permits or business plans.”
Peraica is clearly speaking out of frustration—he believes he could have beaten Stroger three years ago and at least made things interesting last fall when he took on Anita Alvarez for Cook County state’s attorney. Instead he watched the old Democratic ward organizations turn out the votes while he built campaigns from scratch, resulting in a narrow loss to Stroger and a thumping by Alvarez. “We had no Republican Party leadership here—I was kind of left to my own devices, and the results were as they were,” he said. “It’s a tough challenge, no matter how well funded you are, to run as a Republican in Cook County.”
That doesn’t mean he won’t do it again—“I’m looking at all of the options and ruling none of them out.” Peraica said he doesn’t really know Vallas but was left with a good impression after their first conversation. “Mr. Vallas was kind enough to call me and say he wanted to give me a heads-up that the stories were coming out,” Peraica said. “He also indicated he wanted to sit down with me and talk the next time he’s in town.”
Peraica said he’s also talked with state senator Matt Murphy, another potential GOP candidate. “Everyone’s looking at the lay of the land, and with Todd Stroger’s dismal performance, you’re likely to see multiple candidates lining up, like in the Fifth Congressional District,” he said. “If the situation is right, I’ll consider it. But I want to see who else is running—it may be that someone else can get the word out there and raise more money than I can.”