National politics overshadows fierce state's attorney race

If it weren’t for a certain hometown favorite running for president, the race for Cook County State’s Attorney would be commanding voters’ attention.

The office is as important as this year’s race for it has been nasty. Democrat Anita Alvarez and Republican Tony Peraica have taken swipes at each other; Peraica’s also accused Green Party candidate Thomas O’Brien of being a spoiler.

The main duty of the state’s attorney office is to prosecute crimes within the nation’s second largest county.

As the county’s largest municipality, Chicago is the setting for many of those violations. The city takes up a quarter of the total county, but its 2.8 million residents make up more than half the county’s population. Chicago saw almost 34,000 violent crimes in 2006 and about 130,000 property crimes, according to U.S. Department of Justice statistics.

The winner would replace retiring Dick Devine, a Democrat who led the office for the past 12 years

The state’s attorney also has the power to investigate abuses within local governments and agencies. With the power of subpoena, the office can be a scourge against corruption … if the head official wants to be.

- Anita Alvarez, Deputy State’s Attorney, Democrat

Alvarez, 48, is currently third in command at the state’s attorney’s office, having worked there since 1986. Her career included time as head of the office’s Special Prosecutions Bureau. She tried Patrick Sykes for the sexual assault of the 9-year-old “Girl X,” who was completely incapacitated by the attack, as well as police officers accused of corruption.

She became the party's candidate after prevailing in a hard-fought, six way primary.

As state’s attorney, Alvarez promises to improve the office’s approach to domestic violence and reorganize its sex crimes unit. She wants to open satellite offices throughout the county to rebuild trust with minority communities.

She has said Peraica is ignorant of what the state’s attorney’s office actually does.

If elected, Alvarez would be the county’s first female and first Hispanic state’s attorney.

- Tony Peraica, Cook County Commissioner, Republican

Peraica is running “against the Chicago machine,” according to his Web site. The 51-year-old immigrant from Croatia has inveighed against county patronage hiring and the waste of taxpayer dollars since voters elected him to the Cook County Commission in 2002. He has never prosecuted a case, but he has a law practice that handles real estate, malpractice and personal injury law.

If elected, Peraica says he would prioritize prosecuting political insiders, using the office’s subpoena power to discover waste and fraud. He also wants to ensure the smooth working of the county’s automated system that notifies crime victims of events connected to their case, such as court dates.

Peraica has argued that Alvarez should have done more during her time in the state’s attorney office to right the wrongful convictions of Death Row inmates or investigate police Cmdr. John Burge, who’s accused of torturing suspects.

Alvarez was still an undergraduate when the Burge first allegations arose. Since then she said she has helped create an office of professional standards to prosecute police brutality and a policy to videotape police interrogations.

- Thomas O’Brien, Assistant State’s Attorney, Green

O’Brien, 46, prosecutes cases in Juvenile Court. He entered the race to draw attention to causes he supports, including abolition of the death penalty, reducing the number of wrongful charges and the need to unionize workers.

Discuss

JOHN LENDMAN, 11-02-2008

I think there is a slight mistake here... When you write, "If elected, Peraica would be the county’s first female and first Hispanic state’s attorney," I think what you ment to write was, "If elected, Alvarez would be the county’s first female and first Hispanic state’s attorney."

JOHN LENDMAN, 11-02-2008

damn, I did it too, I meant to write, "meant" not "ment."

GEOFF DOUGHERTY, 11-03-2008

Nice catch, John.