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Peraica crosses party lines to help suburban Democratic political boss

Wednesday, February 18, 2009
Chicago Tribune
by Hal Dardick

Cook County Commissioner Tony Peraica (R-Riverside) today helped a South Suburban Democratic political boss win appointment to a county panel that determines whether non-union workers have been fired fairly.

Absent Peraica's favorable vote, Thornton Township Supervisor Frank Zuccarelli—also the township Democratic committeemen—would not have become the newest member of the Employee Appeals Board.

Zuccarelli joins Rita Rezko, the wife of Tony Rezko, who awaits federal sentencing on political corruption charges, lobbyist William Filan and two others on the part-time panel. Each is paid $38,500 and receives full benefits, including health care.

The county board voted 9-7 to approve Zuccarrelli. If Peraica had joined his fellow Republicans and three self-styled independent Democrats in opposition to County Board President Todd Stroger's appointment, the vote would have failed.

In the 2006 Democratic primary, Todd Stroger’s father, John, made his strongest suburban showing in Thornton Township, where he got 16,258 votes to Commissioner Forrest Claypool’s 5,659.

Todd Stroger later replaced his father for the general election after John Stroger suffered a debilitating and ultimately fatal stroke before the primary.

Peraica, typically a Stroger foe, praised Zuccarelli's work as township supervisor. “When you consider other occupants there, like Rita Rezko, he’s probably an improvement,” Peraica said.

Zuccarelli, meanwhile, told commissioners he would not let political considerations influence his decisions.

“If there’s someone (before the board) I had a personal relationship with, I’d recuse myself,” Zuccarelli said after being appointed.

Zuccarelli also said he’s recommended people for county employment, adding that none have ever received a job. County payroll and state campaign finance records show 14 county employees earning at least $52,000 have donated more than $29,000 to the Thornton Township Democratic Organization.

Cook County Commissioner John Daley (D-Chicago) suggested Zuccarelli was hardly the only person in county government who must balance competing interests.

“We, as board members, hold many other jobs as attorneys, insurance (company owners), committeemen,” said Daley, who owns an insurance agency and is a Democratic committeeman.

Commissioner Larry Suffredin (D-Evanston), who chairs the committee that considered the appointment, voted against it. “I just don’t believe anyone who is a sitting committeeman should sit on this particular board,” he said.

Immediately after being appointed, Zuccarelli tendered his resignation as director of satellite offices for Cook County Recorder Gene Moore. Zuccarelli was paid $88,000 in the post. Because he was there only five years, he will not receive a pension, he said.

Zuccarelli said the new part-time post better suited him because he plans to devote more time to township work and return to college to study for his master’s in public administration.

As township supervisor, an elected post, Zuccarelli is paid $56,000 a year. He also receives a $1,100-a-month for expenses and an $837-a-month car allowance.

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