Cook County Commissioner Tony Peraica, the first announced candidate for Cook County Board president on April 26 called incumbent President John Stroger “corrupt” for trying to conceal political patronage jobs on the county payroll.
Peraica, a Republican from Riverside, said he spent his own money to create a database containing the names, zip codes and salaries of more than 24,500 Cook County employees.
His database was important, Peraica said, as an attempt to expose Stroger’s patronage practices and lack of government openness. The employee information is available through Illinois’ Freedom of Information Act requests, but Peraica said he personally has had trouble obtaining county information of any kind.
The list does not contain employees of the Cook County Forest Preserve District. But Peraica said that Sam Simone, a Stroger “political crony,” had been hired to fix picnic tables for $70,000 a year plus benefits.
“The manner in which [Stroger] does business is corrupt,” Peraica charged at a downtown news conference held at Republican headquarters.
Stroger could not be reached for a response. His spokesperson, Caryn Stancik, said Stroger was upset that Peraica had dragged innocent county employees into a political race. That the information is already available to the public through Freedom of Information Act requests is beside the point, she said.
“Everyone has a right to run for public office, including Tony Peraica,” Stancik said. “But to involve innocent people in the partisan political process is simply unfair.”
When asked by a reporter whether his son Marko Peraica’s employment with the county was patronage, Tony Peraica insisted that his son obtained the job fair and square in a competitive hiring process. According to Tony Peraica’s new database, Marko Peraica earns $24,875 as an assistant
Peraica who is in his first term as a commissioner, said additional proof of Stroger’s political patronage hires could be found in an April 2005 Chicago Magazine article, which stated that 27 percent of all county employees resided in Stroger’s and Democratic Commissioner John Daley’s districts. He said the Web site breakdown of zip codes indicates that a high number of employees reside in those districts.
“To suggest that because an employee resides within the legal boundaries of a commissioner’s district, that they belong to that commissioner, is outrageous,” Stancik said.
Stancik noted that the county has operated under the federal court agreement known as the Shakman Decree ever since Stroger took office. The decree prohibits hiring and firing because of political affiliations. More than 24,000 employees undergo a strict hiring procedure, Stancik said.
On April 27, Cook County State’s Attorney Richard Devine asked Peraica to remove zip codes from the database. Devine, in a letter sent to Peraica, stated he was concerned that listing zip code information would pose a safety risk to some employees and requested that Peraica remove them.
“A number of officials, including myself, have a concern about the risk that stems from a zip code being listed,” Devine stated. “Investigators, assistant state’s attorneys, judges and other law enforcement personnel have a legitimate concern about safety these days.”
The request comes just more than a month after U.S. District Judge Joan Lefkow’s husband and mother were murdered at Lefkow’s home by a man, who was unhappy over Lefkow’s dismissal of his claim that doctors disfigured him during cancer treatments. Ross reportedly obtained Lefkow’s address off of the Internet.
The zip codes of all the employees listed had been removed as of late afternoon that day. On his site, Peraica said the database was not intended to “cast aspersions on county employees.”