On Tuesday Cook County state’s attorney candidates Tony Peraica and Anita Alvarez faced off in their first debate of the general election season. On Wednesday the debate spilled into the Cook County Board chambers, only this time Alvarez was gone and Peraica was taking on the entire Democratic-led county government.
It started with an issue that seemingly had nothing to do with the election: a resolution asking state lawmakers to impose a moratorium on housing foreclosures. But some of the Democratic allies of board president Todd Stroger, the sponsor of the resolution and a frequent Peraica target, were so enthusiastic that the discussion turned into something closer to an IWW rally.
“I say to the people in Cook County: Stay in your homes, no matter what happens, until the sheriff comes to put you out!” declared Earlean Collins, who represents a district on the west side. “And I say to the sheriff: Just don’t do it!”
Commissioner Deborah Sims, a south-sider, said the county government should stop doing business with lending institutions that refuse to help mortgage holders stay in their homes. Even Stroger critic Forrest Claypool joined in, ripping greedy lenders and demanding that Congress take action on bills aiding home owners.
Then Peraica, a suburban Republican, asked for the floor to offer his unsolicited view of the source of the problem. “We need to remember that the Democrat-controlled Congress did not pass this,” he said.
On the dais, Stroger was ready to pound the gavel. “We seem to be straying here.”
Peraica didn’t argue–he happily returned to the subject at hand for approximately 30 seconds, noting that Cook County alone could see as many as 50,000 foreclosures just this year. Then he turned to the subject of county spending.
Some people groaned audibly, but no one could have been surprised–it’s more than Peraica’s favorite issue; it’s the issue from which all other issues issue. He’s campaigned for state’s attorney for a year on a promise to cut spending and waste, which is the same platform he pushed in a failed bid for the board presidency in 2006. He won his board seat in 2004 on promises to attack waste, and he came up short in a race for county treasurer four years earlier after vowing to go after excess spending.
Then there’s the fact that the county actually is full of waste.
“What that will cause us as a county board is an inability to collect the revenues that we anticipated,” he said. “So we are going to have to renew our effort to try to deal with our budget problems here without having the anticipated revenues we thought we were going to have from real estate taxes and from sales taxes and from cigarette taxes. This—”
“I think you’ve strayed once more.”
“Strayed?” Peraica said, sounding shocked. “Passing a resolution seeking a moratorium is not going to help the reality, which is catastrophic—catastrophic! And we need to adjust our behavior, which means spending less. Things are not going to be as we anticipated in 2009!”
Commissioner John Daley, Mayor Daley’s little brother and the chairman of the county’s finance committee, jumped in to say he just wanted to clarify something: he had no idea where Peraica was getting some of his revenue figures.
Stroger did. “He got those out of the air,” he said.
After the resolution passed, Peraica brought forward a pair of proposals to repeal the controversial sales tax hike passed by the county earlier this year. But he’d introduced nearly identical measures over the summer, and this time several of Stroger’s board allies moved to kill them. In the rich baritone that made him a soul legend, commissioner Jerry “Iceman” Butler went off on Peraica. “I’m getting tired of playing this game. We have dealt with this issue on three different occasions, he has failed on three different occasions, and he is just dragging out work for us for no specific reason other than his own self-aggrandizement.”
The board erupted in shouting before Stroger ordered a vote. When the roll call got around to him, Peraica delivered another speech.
“Imagine how those 45,000 people losing their homes in foreclosure feel if you think we’re wasting our time here,” he said. “Imagine how the taxpayers feel who have to go out and file bankruptcies in record numbers because they can’t pay their bills—as we raise their taxes here on this board time after time after time! Imagine how they feel if they can’t feed their kids, can’t keep their roof over their heads, and we think we’re wasting our time here! I hope the voters are watching these proceedings on television and will take appropriate action in 2010 when some run for reelection!”
Sims has the unofficial job of dressing down Stroger’s critics. She sighed into her mike–this time it was just too easy.
“You know, I thought we were over the campaigning on this board, but I see it’s alive and well,” she said, turning toward Peraica. “Stop making this your platform to run—we’re all tired of it! Tony, we like you, but we want you to quit! We want you to quit!”
Other commissioners laughed.
“I’ll let the voters decide when I’ll quit,” Peraica growled.
His proposals failed, 9 to 7.