Frank Aguilar

Democratic committeemen representing Cook County’s 16th District met in Berwyn on April 15 to choose a candidate to fill the vacancy created March 31 with the resignation of Jeffrey Tobolski.

In the end, they chose Frank Aguilar, a former Republican state representative who has close ties to Cicero President Larry Dominic, works as the director of community affairs for the Town of Cicero and is a member and former chairman of the Morton College Board of Trustees.

Aguilar, who did not respond an email from the Landmark seeking comment, was chosen from a field of at least six candidates who presented themselves to the committee, which met to select replacement at the Italian-American Civic Organization in Berwyn.

Aguilar will serve the remainder of Tobolski’s term, which expires in 2022. Tobolski resigned as both Cook County Commissioner and McCook mayor six months after his offices and home were raided by federal agents as part of a wide-ranging probe into corruption in the Chicago suburbs.

Tobolski has not been charged with any crime. Two of his close allies, former Chicago aviation official William Helm and his county chief-of-staff Patrick Doherty, have been indicted as a result of that federal investigation.

Each candidate to replace Tobolski was given a chance to make a brief personal pitch before the committee. Due to social distancing requirements as a result of the governor’s order prohibiting gathering of more than 10 people, the candidates waited in their cars to be called in and escorted into the building.

A small group from a Cicero/Berwyn political action committee called Rizoma Collective gathered outside the Italian-American Civic Organization building to protest Aguilar’s selection, focusing on his performance as Morton College Board chairman.

“Under Aguilar’s tenure as chair of the Morton College Board of Trustees, Morton College was put on notice by the Higher Learning Commission for concerns about governance and the ‘operation and behavior of its board members,'” the group said in an emailed statement to the Landmark. “Aguilar failed Morton College, and we believe he will also fail Cook County.”

In addition to Aguilar, the candidates included Lyons Township Clerk Michael Porfirio, Franklin Park Trustee Andy Ybarra, Berwyn/Cicero realtor Eduardo Garcia and Melrose Park attorney Tony Favela, who served as treasurer of Jesus “Chuy” Garcia’s campaign committee in his successful run to represent the 4th Congressional District in 2018.

A sixth candidate was Phil Huckleberry, a software engineer and a relatively new resident of Brookfield, who moved with his family from Chicago less than two years ago. Though he’s new to the political scene in the suburbs, Huckleberry said he served on his Local School Council in the city and in 2004 and 2006 ran for state representative in Normal.

Township committeemen present at the April 15 meeting included the committee chairman, Berwyn Mayor Robert Lovero, as well as Steve Landek of Lyons Township, Vince Cainkar of Stickney Township, Blanca Vargas of Cicero Township and state Rep. Aaron Ortiz, committeeman for Chicago’s 14th Ward. Barrett Pederson of Leyden Township reportedly attended the meeting by teleconference before arriving late to the meeting.

It’s unclear whether Karen Yarbrough of Proviso Township attended in person. Huckleberry said Yarbrough, who is also Cook County Clerk, was “definitely” not present when he was interviewed.

State Rep. Mike Zalewski, the Democratic committeeman for Riverside Township, did not attend the meeting but confirmed that he gave his proxy to Lovero.

Reportedly the committee took several straw votes before settling on Aguilar as the consensus candidate.

“Given the complexity of the COVID-19 dynamic, I thought Mayor Lovero did the best he could under difficult circumstances,” said Zalewski in an email. “I look forward to working with Commissioner Aguilar.”

Asked who he supported for the position, Zalewski responded that he felt Porfirio was a string candidate.

“As for who I backed, I have strong feelings that Mike Porfirio is a rising star in the party and if not today, then soon deserves a seat at the table very soon,” Zalewski said. “The complexity of the district — a majority of voters of Latino descent — produced a complicated process that resulted in a consensus candidate.”

Porfirio, a 2004 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy spent 6.5 years on active duty and is now a commander in the Navy Reserve. He got his start in local politics under Landek in his hometown of Bridgeview, and has held a number of jobs as a public servant in the southwest suburbs.

He was a park district commissioner in Bedford Park, public works superintendent in Bridgeview and part-time administrator in Summit before being elected clerk of Lyons Township.

In a phone interview with the Landmark, Porfirio said he was “gearing up” to make a run for a seat on the county board in 2022. Exactly which district he might run to represent may depend on how district boundaries are set after redistricting, which occurs every decade.

“It’s an interesting choice,” Porfirio said of Aguilar’s selection as county commissioner. “I don’t know him and I personally wish him the best. I also know there were multiple candidates who were well-qualified and also would have been a better fit. It was disappointing to a lot of people.”

As a Republican, Aguilar served as a state representative for the 24th District from 2002-04. He was famously defeated in the 2004 general election by a Democrat who did not campaign and was widely believed to have been a ghost candidate sponsored by Aguilar himself.

Elizabeth “Lisa” Hernandez won election to the position at the next election in 2006 and has held the post since.