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Gorman vs. Peraica: Who's right? And where's the pork?

Thursday, March 15, 2007
Daily Southtown

In separate, recent letters to the Daily Southtown, dueling factions of the Cook County Board defended their support -- and objections -- to the Cook County budget, which caffeine-doped commissioners knitted together during a 2 a.m. vote Feb. 23.
In one camp was Orland Park Republican Elizabeth Doody Gorman whose support proved critical to Todd Stroger's budget victory.
In another camp was Riverside Republican Tony Peraica, who ran against Stroger for the Cook County Board presidency last fall.
In a letter to the editor published Monday in the Daily Southtown, Peraica and other anti-Stroger commissioners criticized those who voted for the budget.
Peraica then posted a more biting message on his Web site titled, "Tell Liz Gorman the Truth Hurts." He included her e-mail address and office phone numbers so her constituents could complain to her more conveniently.
Why the amplified umbrage for Gorman?
"When the Republican county chair votes in favor of Todd Stroger's budget that preserves (Stroger's) family members, financial donors and Democratic committeemen, and we're firing sheriff's police officers, it's demoralizing to Republicans who are trying to rebuild," Peraica said. "I believe (Gorman) is held to a higher standard as a leader of our party."
Gorman's GOP colleagues recently elected her chairman of the Cook County Republican Party over an opponent backed by Peraica.
Certainly, Gorman's support of Stroger's budget placed her in a risky position. The bulk of her Orland Township constituents voted against Stroger for Cook County Board president. Stroger took 24 percent of the Orland Township vote to Peraica's 76 percent.
Gorman said her vote was rather simple:
"We stuck our necks out for all the taxpayers of Cook County. How can people complain when we balanced a $3 billion budget with a $500 million deficit without a tax increase?" she asked.
Yes, health clinics will close. But they served a small percentage of patients in the county system and were draining resources.
Yes, people will lose their jobs. But the cuts come from bloat at every level -- top, middle and bottom.
"People know where I stand and my character, and they know we did the best we could," she said.
Meanwhile, in voting against Stroger's budget, Peraica aligned himself with one Democrat heavily backed by organized labor -- Larry Suffredin, of Evanston -- and another Democrat accused of slicing and dicing payroll a decade ago at the Chicago Park District, Forrest Claypool, of Chicago.
If Gorman was wrong to side with Stroger, shouldn't Peraica's Republican constituents be equally suspect at his strange bedfellows? Peraica, a conservative Republican, sided with labor unions and defended health care for the poor.
"I strongly believe we could have protected front-line workers and eliminated political hires who don't do the work and still get salaries in excess of $100,000," Peraica said. "(Gorman) protected the upper echelons that Stroger relied on to get elected."
Yet three weeks after the budget vote, a quandary remains for voters in general: It's unclear who's right.
The midnight horse-trading on Feb. 23 -- between coffee breaks and pizza deliveries -- left sleep-deprived commissioners uncertain about the final document in the days afterward. The budgeteers continue to work through the final numbers.
One thing is sure. For possibly the first time, the county's 17-member board actually combed through the payroll, identified waste and debated the value of certain positions.
"We knew the name of each person in every generically described position," Peraica said. "It was a very labor intensive process. But I know where the bodies are buried. I know a little more about this operation than I did four years ago."
That's what took two days, Gorman said.
"We did it by position. If any names came up, we said, 'We don't want to hear names.' We did it blindly and fairly," she said.
As for the risk Gorman took in siding with Stroger, she insists there was no deal. She didn't "get" anything in return.
"If you're cutting a deal around here lately, you're getting indicted. That is not the way Cook County needs to operate," Gorman said.
Gorman may not have cut a deal directly for her vote, but it would be naive to think she won't get rewarded at some point. As long as the carrot doesn't benefit her financially, what's wrong with some recompense for sticking her neck out? If state budget leaders didn't entice lawmakers with a little pork, they would never leave Springfield with a balanced budget.
Gorman's "thank you" gift will arrive in a more subtle package. Perhaps the county will find money for Swallow Cliff Toboggan Slide, for example.
And only Gorman will see the wink-wink from Stroger himself.


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