Is Tony Peraica a maverick, waging a lonely battle against corruption in Cook County, or is he simply at war with everyone, unable to effect reform because his combativeness has turned off colleagues who view his every utterance as all about him?
Is Jeffrey Tobolski a can-do legislator who through hard work and shrewd deal-making has started a commercial renaissance in the midst McCook’s obsolete industrial past, or he is bought and paid for by a political machine that is responsible for making county government a sinkhole of patronage and corruption?
Welcome to the race for Cook County commissioner in the 16th District.
Over the next eight months, voters are guaranteed to hear these themes or variations on them during a battle that will be the toughest Peraica, a Riverside resident, has had to face since first being elected county commissioner in 2002.
On Feb. 2, each man easily won their party’s nomination to the November election, crushing under-funded opponents in the primaries. In the Republican race, Peraica squashed Westchester resident Brian Sloan by collecting 75 percent of the vote, while Tobolski cruised over his Democratic opponents, Brookfield resident Bill Russ and Northlake resident Eddy Garcia. Tobolski, who is the mayor of McCook, won 55 percent of the vote to Russ’ 23 percent and Garcia’s 22 percent.
In phone interviews with the Landmark a day after their victories, both Peraica and Tobolski made the case for themselves – and against each other – in what promises to be a pitched battle for the 16th District seat.
“I’ve got a record of promoting good government, lower taxes and the elimination of corruption,” said Peraica. “I’ve fought the battle with gusto and I have the scars to prove it. I’m going to continue to be a zealous, loud advocate for taxpayers, who are buried under tax burdens and a corruption tax which is 10 percent of government expenditures.”
Tobolski, according to Peraica, is not interested in fighting that fight.
“Tobolski represents exactly what’s wrong with public office,” he said. “He’s only interested in self-aggrandizement and his own benefit.”
Peraica pointed specifically to campaign donations to Tobolski’s political fund, The Friends of Jeffery Tobolski, as evidence, alleging that the mayor squeezes businesses and village vendors for campaign donations.
“He has, in essence, engaged in pay-to-play against those he regulates in McCook,” Peraica said. “He was handed his seat by his father, and has used it to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars from the people who he, as mayor, regulates.”
Peraica also slammed campaign donations from Cicero Town President Larry Dominick’s Cicero Voters Alliance, Melrose Park Mayor Ronald Serpico and Joseph Mario Moreno, a Cook County commissioner who voted repeatedly to uphold Cook County Board President Todd Stroger’s sales tax increase. Moreno was ousted in his bid for re-election in Cook County’s 7th District on Feb. 2.
Serpico, who lost to Peraica for the 16th District seat in 2002, has helped fund Peraica’s opponents ever since. Dominick had Peraica’s support back in 2005, when Dominick was running as a reform candidate against an ally of Betty Loren-Maltese, the former Cicero president who was convicted on federal corruption charges.
That relationship soured quickly and the two are sworn enemies five years later. That’s a theme running through Peraica’s political career, said Tobolski.
“Tony Peraica is all about Tony Peraica. It’s all about his law business and his political dealings,” said Tobolski.
“He always runs negative, sheltering campaigns.”
Tobolski said Peraica’s reliance on trotting out Dominick and Serpico obscures the fact that he has, he said, the support of the mayors in 19 of 24 cities in the 16th District.
“It’s more than Larry Dominick and Ron Serpico,” Tobolski said. “How is it that everyone’s out to get you, Tony?”
Tobolski, who said he’ll remain as McCook’s mayor if he beats Peraica in November, said that when Peraica first was elected to the county board, he was effective as a watchdog.
Since that time, he said, Peraica has alienated his colleagues on the county board because of his grandstanding. Tobolski said that Peraica’s combativeness has resulted in the 16th District getting the short end of the stick when it comes to getting county funding for such things as Community Development Block Grants and that he has trouble even getting motions seconded at county board meetings.
“His big problem is he’s not effective,” Tobolski said. “When you’re in politics, you’re a legislator at some level.
“We didn’t send you there to fight with Todd Stroger and your colleagues on the county board. If you don’t get along with anybody, get out.”
Peraica has even alienated fellow Republicans in Lyons Township, where he is GOP committeeman.
In 2006, Peraica nearly lost his position as committeeman to a political rookie, beating Michael LaPidus by less than 1 percent of the vote. Peraica did win re-election as Lyons Township committeeman by a large margin (73.6 to 26.4 percent) on Feb. 2 over his opponent, James Pittacora.
In the 2006 general election for the 16th District, he narrowly defeated Democrat Edward Gomolinski, who received the backing of Peraica foes such as Chicago Ald. Ed Burke, Serpico and North Riverside’s VIP Party. In the aftermath of that election, Gomolinski was appointed a judge.
Democrats feel Peraica is vulnerable and Tobolski said his strategy is to sway the 8,600 voters who chose Russ and Garcia, along with the 3,000 who chose Sloan in the GOP race to reject Peraica.
“I feel great about my vote totals,” said Tobolski, who received 10,597 to Peraica’s 9,261. “I got 1,200 more votes than Tony, but there are 11,000 votes out there to be had. It’s a question of how do we go get that?”