Four candidates for Cook County commissioner in the 16th District faced off Sunday in Countryside at a forum sponsored by the LaGrange Area League of Women Voters, including incumbent Republican Tony Peraica, Republican Brian Sloan and Democrats Bill Russ and Jeff Tobolski, who answered questions during the 75-minute event.
Democrat Eddy Garcia and two Green party candidates did not respond to an invitation to participate according to the organizers of the forum.
The four agreed much of the time – all four of them criticized the recent increase in the county sales tax, criticized the management of county government and called for reform.
Peraica, of Riverside, who was first elected to the county board in 2002, was typically blunt.
“I’m there to say no,” Peraica said in his opening statement. “I’m there to shine the spotlight on corruption and higher taxes and to fight against it.”
Peraica said that the county must reduce its personnel costs, called for eliminating patronage hiring, moving pensions for new employees to a defined contribution plan and having county employees contribute more toward the cost of their fringe benefits.
Peraica also called for the elimination of the county’s highway department and supported contracting out snow removal and maintenance of county roads to local towns.
“I support privatization of the functions of the Cook County Highway Department, because it is one of the most corrupt sections of Cook County government,” Peraica said.
Peraica also supported creating a non-partisan board to govern the Cook County Forest Preserve District.
Sloan, a 34-year-old certified public accountant who was elected to the Westchester village board less than one year ago, said that Cook County government was top heavy.
“There needs to be a complete audit of the county system, checking the roles and responsibility of each employee,” Sloan said. Sloan also supported moving to a defined contribution system for new county employees.
“Overall, benefits need to be adjusted,” Sloan said. “They need to be closer to what we have in the private sector.”
Sloan, like all the candidates, supported reducing the county’s sales tax.
“By lowering the sales tax, we will keep the consumers in Cook County,” Sloan said. “If Cook County doesn’t reduce taxes, you’re going to lose businesses.”
Sloan did not support the creation of a separate board to govern the forest preserves.
Tobolski, the mayor of McCook, also opposed the creation of a separate board for the forest preserves and said that Cook County already has too many layers of government. He pointed to his record of helping to create jobs in McCook and his ability to deliver services at reasonable cost.
He said that contracting out highway maintenance should be looked at on a case by case basis.
One comment was clear swipe at Peraica.
“‘No’ is not a political platform,” said Tobolski, whose campaign committee collected $134,600 in contributions in the last six months according to state records. “To do nothing is not reform. To say no and then produce nothing is not a platform as far as I’m concerned.”
Russ, a former village president in Brookfield is at a severe financial disadvantage against Tobolski. His campaign has raised only $6,560 in the last six months, $2,500 of which he contributed himself. But he was prepared for the forum, often reading responses.
He proposed eliminating the Cook County Forest Preserves police department, which he described as a haven for patronage and suggesting having the Cook County Sheriff police the forest preserves.
Russ also proposed that non-violent criminals be given work release and put to work fixing potholes rather than sit in Cook County jail. Russ favored a non-partisan board to oversee the forest preserves, proposed a sales tax holiday and the creation of a small business administration office at the county level.
Russ said that patronage must be eliminated and county government reformed.
“We need to cut the wasteful spending and consolidate offices and cut the top heaviness and large salaries and we need to do this while continuing to provide the highest level of services,” Russ said.
After the polite forum, the gloves came off between the two Republicans.
“Mr. Peraica is completely ineffective,” said Sloan when asked why he was running. “He’s divisive. He can’t even get a second on the floor of the county board and if that doesn’t say you’re ineffective I don’t know what does. He’s not willing to work with others and others are not willing to work with him.
Peraica shot back saying that Sloan was backed by longtime opponents of Peraica.
“Mr. Sloan, who was elected and sworn into office last May and has been there for six months, really doesn’t understand the intricacies of county government and his answers today reflected that,” Peraica said. “Mr. Sloan is being put up by (mayor of Melrose Park) Ron Serpico, (state representative) Jim Durkin, (former state senator) Tom Walsh all of whom have for years made money off of government, simply to try and stymie my efforts to reform county government.”