@tonyperaica, the Twittering comissioner, provides look inside government

  • By Alex Parker
  • Staff Writer
  • June 01, 2009 @ 8:00 AM

When Cook County Board President Todd Stroger shut off Commissioner Tony Peraica’s microphone at an April board meeting, the Riverside Republican was silenced for just a few moments.

Peraica turned immediately to the microblogging service Twitter, using it during the meeting to let the world know what Stroger was up to.

“Democracy is being trampled upon in Cook County today,” he wrote. “Commissioners (sic) microphone was cut off when questions are asked about county finances.”

Peraica, 52, says Twitter is helping transform Cook County politics. He began using the service late last year (though the account has been active since last July).

In recent months, he's come into his own as a "Tweeter."

His consistent tweets -- nearly 1,300 as of this writing -- provide a minute-by-minute look at county proceedings, as well as pointed criticism of his political opponents on the board.

Twitter is a platform, he says, that allows him to connect with younger constituents, while railing against any and all injustices that occur with “the wild and strange things that take place here.”

A blunt look at county politics

In a county rarely revered for a transparent government, where allegations of corruption are as commonplace as the potholes plaguing the streets, Peraica’s blunt take on politics stands out.

“Transparency is of (the) utmost importance,” he tweeted in May. “It is the first step towards eliminating corruption.”

Patrick Rehkamp, chief investigator at the Better Government Association, a watchdog group, says Peraica is providing a new kind of open government.

“The county has been notoriously closed in terms of access to information, and stuff like that," he says. "There are a lot of things that the county doesn’t do online that other government agencies do, so I think this definitely helps.”

Curt Mercadante, president of the Merc Strategy Group, encouraged Peraica to test Twitter, and has led the commissioner’s efforts to engage voters on other social networking sites, including Facebook and YouTube.

“There are a lot of things that go on in these county board meetings that people would just be shocked at,” Mercadante says. “For the first time, people have a real glimpse of some of the lunacy of these board meetings. Next thing you know, we’ve seen a real change in the last few months where the county board meetings have become a legislative process instead of a rubber stamp.”

Much of Peraica's social networking efforts will eventually be housed at his Web site, Peraica.com. He also blogs on county politics at a site called Reform Cook County.

When county commissioners met to discuss a repeal of a one-percent sales tax hike, Peraica chronicled the debate.

When Commissioner Joseph Mario Moreno, who previously voted for the repeal, gave his support to Stroger’s veto, Peraica was livid.

“Com. Moreno is now supporting Pres. Stroger's veto. He flipped AGAIN. Unbelievable,” he wrote.

He said Commissioner Robert Steele recycled false information about the consequences of the repeal, including the closure of two county hospitals.

When former Gov. Rod Blagojevich was indicted on federal corruption charges, Peraica tweeted, "Ding dong, Blago's done..."

“Some (commissioners) clearly don’t appreciate it,” Peraica says. “In fact, they have exhibited extreme outward hostility toward me. Then you have people on the other end of the extreme, you have people who just love it. They are totally amused by it.”

Stroger, who is the recipient of much of Peraica's scorn, has a Twitter account for his reelection campaign.

Taxpayers win

One of those might be Commissioner Timothy O. Schneider, who started using Twitter last month under the name Fighting15th. While not as inflammatory as Peraica, Schneider, who could not be reached for comment, is also critical of Cook County government, calling it “bloated” and covered in “a shroud of secrecy.”

Schneider and Stroger could not be reached for comment on Peraica's use of Twitter.

Peraica says some commissioners were disturbed enough by it that they attempted to shut down wireless Internet in the commission's meeting room after he began broadcasting proceedings. 

But in the end, he says, taxpayers – with whom he regularly interacts on Twitter – win.

“I do it because I feel passionately that this is what needs to be done,” he says.  “Education is the key to political change. So, hopefully voters, whose pockets are being emptied, whose money is wasted, will wake up one day and say, ‘Gosh, if I only knew that, I would have done something about it.’ Well, here it is. Do something about it.”

Daily News Staff Writer Alex Parker covers public health. He can be reached at 773.362.5002, ext. 17, or alex [at] chitowndailynews [dot] org.