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Proviso Probe

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Alvarez and Peraica spar at Union League Club

Today at 8:00 AM Democratic and Republican candidates for Cook County State’s Attorney (CCSA) debated for an hour at the Union League Club. Afterwards both Anita Alvarez (Democrat-River Forest) and Cook County Commissioner Anthony Peraica (Republican-Riverside) appeared separately before the media in attendance. The forum was also hosted by Comcast which will broadcast (narrowcast) video of the forum Thursdays at 9 PM.

The debate questions were chosen by a moderator from questions submitted by the audience. The audience at the Union League Club appeared to over represent affluent “White” males. There were few African-Americans besides the journalists and people who did not meet the club’s dress code were excluded, per club policy.

Peraica emphasized corruption as a problem facing Cook County and said that the two systems of justice administered by the CCSA protects the corrupt from being prosecuted. There is one system of justice for the connected and the elite and another system of justice for everyone else. He promised to "audit the book, lock up the crooks" only once. He referred to Cook County as "Crook County" a few times.

Alvarez was less focused in her message. She asserted that she was qualified for the job and that the main change needed is for the CCSA to listen to communities more. Alvarez has been a Cook County assistant state's attorney for 22 years since graduating from Chicago-Kent Law School. In a restrained manner she drew attention to being a woman and being a Democrat.

Both candidates took jabs at each other. Peraica damned Alvarez as someone who didn't take risks in an organization that turned a blind eye to corruption. He described her as the candidate chosen by the political bosses who want the CCSA to remain ineffective at investigating and prosecuting corruption. Alvarez said Peraica was a "career politician" who ran for various offices. His legal experience is as a defense attorney, not a prosecutor. And she linked Peraica to problems on the county board, especially the board failing to provide adequate resources.

Peraica made four specific proposals that seemed noteworthy.

1. Peraica would eliminate prosecution of simple drug use and possession in favor of treatment and other options.

2. Peraica committed to cutting the CCSA budget by 2 ½ % per year for four years for a 10% decrease in his first term. He said cuts could be to high-salary managers who are politically connected and do little work. He also questioned if it made sense to have three ASAs in court for every felony case.

3. Peraica would not oppose ASAs organizing a union. Illinois Supreme Court rulings have held that a state’s attorney has a right to have a direct relationship with his/her ASAs without having the relationship mediated by a union. Peraica said the reason Dick Devine, the current CCSA, and Alvarez oppose unionizing is that they do want to continue to hire politically connected ASAs.

4. Peraica would offer house arrest monitored by ankle bracelet as an alternative to housing people at Cook County jail for people willing to pay for this option. This would both save Cook County the cost of incarceration and generate revenue. He used the example of a businessman convicted of DUI paying $200 per day instead of costing county government $100 per day.

Alvarez called for two specific changes.

She proposed creating CCSA satellite offices around Cook County, perhaps with facilities donated by municipal government or from the private sector. She contends having more offices would make the CCSA more responsive to community needs.

Alvarez also wants the Illinois legislature to pass a law that requires firearm owners to report lost or stolen firearms in 72 hours. She alleges that when law enforcement tracks the chain of ownership for firearms used in crimes there’s often an owner that had the firearm “stolen” but didn’t report it. She contends that this is how straw-man buyers transfer firearms from the legal market to the criminal market.

When asked about gun violence Peraica chose to speak about his plan for reducing the number of people incarcerated by not prosecuting simple drug use and possession.

Both Peraica and Alvarez favored the death penalty when asked how they would determine when to apply it. Alvarez would keep the existing committee system in place to decide whether to seek the death penalty. She said, “We seek the death penalty less than people think [we do].” Peraica said whether to have the death penalty or not was matter for the legislature to decide. He said he’d reserve it for the most heinous cases like five women killed in February in Tinley Park.

Alvarez and Peraica sparred over the size of the budget. Peraica characterized the CCSA budget as being $136 million per year. Alvarez rebutted this and said the budget was $90 million in the debate and $96 million in the press conference. Peraica’s figure included grant money. Alvarez’s figure was just the money allocated by the county board.

When questioned about using electronic devices to monitor sex offenders who have served their criminal sentences, Alvarez said she was open to the idea if it passed constitutional muster. Peraica expressed his doubt that imposing conditions after a criminal sentence was completed was constitutional and expressed little interest in the idea.

While no one in the audience asked about the demographics at the CCSA, Peraica did raise the issue in a question about reducing the number of cases overturned on appeal. Peraica told the audience only 6% of ASAs are African-American. This was an issue raised by Alvarez's African-American opponents in the Democratic primary, especially Ald. Howard Brookins.

IMO, the issue of hiring is one that the media people want to get the facts. Peraica repeated the allegation that the CCSA has a number of ASAs who were hired because of political connections, not an impartial evaluation of their legal talents. Alvarez denied this. Part of her denial was that every ASA had to graduate from law school. But she was more specific in the media session. Alvarez said she was the third round interviewer for every ASA and she said, "I don't think there is [hiring of relatives of the politically connected]." The media asked Peraica to provide examples of ASAs who were relatives of politicians. Peraica named Brookins and a name I didn't recognize. Both were hired a long time ago. Peraica also said people should visit JoinPeraica.com to find a list of Cook County employees.

If Peraica can show that Alvarez has hired multiple politically connected attorneys to be ASAs, she'll look clueless or dishonest. If Peraica can't show that the CCSA has been hiring the politically connected in the recent past, he's going to look like someone who always screams about corruption and either exaggerates the problem or he's clueless about how the corruption really works.

Thomas O'Brien is the Green Party candidate for Cook County State's Attorney. He did not participate in the debate or media availability. Although Peraica referenced O'Brien as being one of the high-paid, do-little managers working for the CCSA. Peraica alleged the Democrats want O'Brien, who continues to work as an ASA, in the race to siphon reform votes away from Peraica.

[UPDATE: I added a bunch of text Tuesday at 3:42 PM. And here are some of the traditional media outlets: Chicago Public Radio, Sun-Times (Abdon M. Pallasch), ABC7, and Chicago Tribune (Monique Garcia).]

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  • Great to have this information

    By Anonymous provisohound, at 3:50 PM, September 17, 2008  

  • It will be nice to see Peraica get whipped by Alvarez. Maybe we should begin a poll.

    What do you think the percentage will be in the whipping election between these two.

    I give Alvarez 75%

    By Anonymous Billy, at 11:08 AM, September 29, 2008  

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