By DAMIAN JOSEPH and H. LEE WHACK JR., Medill News Service
Democrat Todd Stroger claimed a delayed victory last Wednesday afternoon in the race for Cook County Board president, but taking the seat left him by his ailing father was still sweet.
"I'm humbled by the election, but it feels good to win," Stroger told a crowd of supporters gathered at Hotel Allegro, the same hotel in which Democratic Party bosses picked him to replace former board President John H. Stroger on the ticket.
After another election night marred by vote counts that dragged into day, Stroger had garnered 60.85 percent of the vote with about 93 percent of the precincts reporting, defeating his Republican challenger, Cook County Commissioner Tony Peraica of Riverside.
Stroger pointed to the future saying that it was time to switch the focus "from celebration to governing." And after the party let out, Commissioner John P. Daley (D-Chicago) predicted cooperative times under the new board president.
"It's a good victory for Todd; he is going to reach out to all members of the board," said Daley, "he made that clear in there, and I look forward to working with him."
On election night, the Chicago River separated the headquarters of Stroger and Peraica at the Hyatt Regency and InterContinental Hotels. Hours later it was a similar scenario as Peraica conceded at the InterContinental.
"It's been a long couple of days," Peraica said. "We ran an intense, emotional, passionate and principled campaign in a proud manner."
It was an especially long night, and shortly after 1 a.m., Peraica incited his supporters to storm the Cook County Administration Building at 69 W. Washington St. and demand the votes be counted. He claimed "the sanctity of the ballots" may have been compromised by unsecured transport of paper ballots and electronic cartridge data to downtown.
Peraica pointed an angry finger at Sequoia Voting Systems, the company from which the county purchased new polling machines for $60 million.
"They have failed miserably with the execution of this election. I am sickened by the lack of ability to learn from their past mistakes," Peraica said.
But, as the count ground on, the news did not get better for him. "At 5:30 a.m. [Wednesday], we realized we lost the battle," Peraica said.
During his concession speech, Peraica said he attempted to contact Stroger to congratulate him, but was unable to reach him.
After the Nov. 7 election night fiasco, speculation of possible legal action from Peraica abounded. Quelling the rumors, Peraica spokesman Dan Proft said, "I really don't see much legal recourse. There's no remedial action. We're not going to get a do-over."
"It's disappointing. We thought we were going to have a sea change in Cook County government," Proft said.
Professor Wesley Skogan of the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University said the election result "shows the enormous weight of the traditional Democratic Party of Cook County," made up of "remnants of what used to be a political machine, plus the growing support in the suburbs, which is not to be discounted."
"Despite the charges [of nepotism against Stroger], he still won handily," Skogan said. "Peraica didn't have a chance, he got clobbered."
Skogan added that Peraica did do the "best of all Republicans running countywide."
Peraica is expected to win re-election to his 16th District county commissioner seat. With 98 percent of the votes counted, Peraica led William Gomolinski 51 percent to 49 percent or 1,449 votes out of a total of 67,000 votes cast.
Peraica called that race "a tough fight," but added that he has "never had an easy time getting elected."
And he didn't give up tough talk in his concession speech, saying Stroger "successfully bamboozled" Cook County voters, getting them to believe "guns, gays and abortion" were major issues in the campaign.
Stroger left out mention of Peraica in his acceptance speech. Flanked by his wife, his mother and current board President Bobbie Steele, Stroger said to loud applause, "I also thank my father, John Stroger. Without him, I wouldn't be here today."
Daniel B. Honigman of Medill News Service contributed to this report.