River Forest’s Anita Alvarez woke up on the morning of Feb. 5 as a dark horse in the crowded Democratic primary for Cook County State’s Attorney. She went to bed as arguably the front runner in next November’s general election.

She now squares off with Riverside attorney and Cook County Commissioner Tony Peraica.

Alvarez ran garnered strong vote totals in both the city and suburbs, racking up roughly 27 percent of the total or 233,554 votes–10,899 more than her nearest competitor, Chicago alderman Tom Allen.

Alvarez spent a busy Feb. 6 doing interviews with a long list of Chicago print and broadcast media, in between fielding what campaign manager Sally Daly termed “hundreds” of calls from elected officials throughout Cook County and beyond.

Peraica, though, wasted no time attacking Alvarez’s record and questioning her motives. The Peraica campaign, which has made it clear he will make investigating and prosecuting local government corruption a top priority, lambasted Alvarez for being an insider player in an office that’s done little to attack such corruption.

“The state’s attorney office has long built a reputation of turning a blind eye to public corruption,” Peraica campaign manager Curt Mercadante said last week. “Anita Alvarez, especially since she boasts of heading the Public Integrity Unit, was a big part of this well deserved reputation.

“The Public Integrity Unit was out to lunch.”

Mercadante accused Alvarez of being an agent of the status quo who sought, but didn’t receive, the endorsement of outgoing State’s Attorney Richard Devine in the primary. Devine has since endorsed her in the general election.

Mercadante also hinted that Alvarez has begun to cut political deals, citing her dominant showing in such politically controlled wards as John Daley’s 11th, Edward Burke’s 14th and the 13th, controlled by Michael Madigan. 

Alvarez reiterated her position that violent crime was the core mission of the state’s attorney’s office, telling Chicago Public Radio WBEZ, “It’s clear the voters want their children to be safe, going to school, the park, to church.”

Alvarez acknowledged corruption was an issue, saying, “That’s not to say that corruption isn’t important.”

Calling herself “the only person who’s tried and convicted police officers,” Alvarez said, “I think our office could be a little more proactive in these cases, and I’d be committed to do it.”

Mercadante acknowledged that Alvarez’s Hispanic ethnicity was a positive, but also noted that 73 percent of Democratic primary voters did not vote for her.

Alvarez expressed confidence that her message will continue to resonate with voters.

“I think we’ll do fine against Tony,” she told WBEZ. “I’ll continue to stick to my message.”

Both candidates have invested heavily in their campaigns. The Peraica campaign, which did not need to expend resources producing and airing television ads for his uncontested primary election, reported spending $101,542.27 the last six months of 2007. He has since raised over $170,000 in donations.

Peraica lists nearly $1,500,000 in personal loans to his campaign fund through June, 2006, including a $506,567 second mortgage on his Riverside home.

Alvarez, who had $41,259.84 on hand Dec. 31, 2007, received $18,700 in contributions in January, as well as a $600,000 loan from her husband. That money was reportedly used to pay for producing and airing political ads in advance of the primary election.