The League of Women Voters of Oak Park and River Forest hosted a candidates fair Oct. 21, in Oak Park, allowing candidates to “meet and greet” constituents before the Nov. 7 election.

Challengers and incumbents attending Saturday’s fair included Cong. Danny Davisstate as well as Cook County Board president candidates, Chicago Ald. Todd Stroger (D-8th Ward) and Cook County Commissioner Tony Peraica (R).

Candidates in attendance, or those with representatives present, had an individual table set up to talk with constituents and provide campaign materials. Candidates were also invited to speak briefly at the podium about their candidacy. They were given four minutes to speak, and the order was determined by a random draw. Only candidates were allowed to speak.

Featured matchup

In the race for Cook County Board president, Democratic board-appointed nominee Todd Stroger faced Tony Peraica in one of the more heated debates of the event.

Peraica presented himself as a Horatio Alger parable, contrasting his struggle up the political ladder against the odds, to Stroger, whom he claimed to be “part of a political dynasty.”

Peraica described his experiences as an adolescent orphan and his eventual journey to America from Croatia at the age of 13. After living in abject poverty, he said, he managed to graduate from the University of Illinois at Chicago with a degree in political science and later, after attending John Marshall Law School, went on to build a prosperous law firm. Currently, he holds a seat on the Cook County Board of Commissioners (16th Dist.) where he has served since 2003. He has been married 26 years and is the father of a son and daughter.

“My primary duties as board president [will be] pretty simple: smaller government, lower taxes, and eliminate the rampant corruption present in the government today,” said Peraica. “Today our government has become a national embarrassment and a slap in the face to the millions who spilled blood on this land in the last 230 years for our democracy. My opponent has no record, no experience dealing with serious policy, no thorough position, and is only in this race because his father wants to pass the political baton from father to son. I say that one must earn a position they seek, not have it given to them like trousers.”

Todd Stroger was selected by the Cook County Board committee to replace his father, John, on the ballot, after his father retired in July from the position he held for 12 years. Last March, prior to the Democratic primary election, Stroger suffered a severe stroke that prevented him from continuing to campaign. He still won the nomination with 53 percent of the vote over challenger Forrest Claypool.

There was much speculation about who would replace Stroger on the ballot. In the end, Democratic Party committeement chose Todd Stroger. A controversial choice, it immediately subjected the younger Stroger to complaints of “nepotism.”

“If his name was Todd Smith we would never have heard of him,” said Peraica.

Stroger tried to deflect the criticism with humor (his campaign booklet features his silhouette and the challenge, “Name that Candidate”) and attempted to distance himself from the controversy by claiming he would not conduct business on the board in the same fashion as his father, whose methods, according to Todd were in some respects outdated and regressive.

“I think that in many ways my father was not ready for change. I bring that,” said Stroger. “I have a platform that makes sense, that will balance the budget and decrease the deficit. I want to bring faith back in the people in government.”

Todd Stroger studied history and economics at Xavier University in New Orleans and later did graduate work at DePaul University in Chicago. He is married with two children.

7th Congressional District race

Danny Davis, who is running for re-election in the 7th Congressional District was on hand. The 65-year-old Democratic incumbent has held the position since 1996. He is a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, the Congressional Progressive Caucus and the Congressional Community Health Centers Caucus. He is married to Vera Davis, and they have two sons.

His challenger is Charles Hutchinson, a downtown Chicago resident who studied history at the University of Kentucky before opening a flower shop (Trade Wind Flowers) and becoming involved in the 2nd Ward Republican Organization, where he is vice president. He is a married and the father of one.

“I’ve been in office 10 years and in that time it has mostly been controlled by the Republican Party,” said Davis. “However, I have been able to work effectively with both Democrats and Republicans to make headway…I hope I have the chance to complete the work that we have already started.”

Hutchinson said he would push for job training and work study programs within prison walls, so when they are released, ex-offenders would have “a better chance” to receive employment after incarceration.

“[Davis’] plan is to open facilities and tell people, well if you want to go and get help for yourself here’s a waiting list for a shelter you can go to so you can maybe receive job training,” Hutchinson said. “I say teach them while they are still incarcerated and provide job placement opportunities for them. This would greatly decrease the recidivism rate.”

Hutchinson also supports creating an “enterprise zone” in certain low-income areas throughout Chicago. Areas where households are only 15 percent above the poverty level under federal guidelines would be considered “enterprise zones.”

Other participants and races included:

8th District state representative – LaShawn Ford (Democrat) and Nathan Helsabeck (Green Party)

9th District Cook County commissioner – Jodi Biancalana (D) and Peter Silvestri (R)

Cook County sheriff – Tom Dart (D) and Peter Garza (R)

39th state senate – incumbent Sen. Don Harmon (D)

From the candidates’ mouths

Statements from the League of Women Voters candidates fair held last Saturday at OPRF High School:

“As commissioner I will oppose tax increases and spend money more wisely. I want to reform the Juvenile Detention Center and put in place a policy board equipped to run the center. I also want to invest more in the forest preserves.”

-Peter Silvestri, Cook County Board (R)

“As commissioner, I would be in charge of a $3 million budget. I want to expand the forest preserves and put a precise recycling plan in place. I am a teacher on the West Side and am acutely aware of where the district is headed and where it needs to go next. You’d think that in 12 years in office, my opponent would have made many more strides than he has. Apparently three terms just isn’t enough time to create a change.”

-Jodi Biancalana (D), running against Silvestri

“I’ve been a prosecutor for five years and have served as state representative for a diverse district on Chicago’s South Side. I’ve been endorsed by both the Sun-Times and the Tribune. If I’m elected, I will advocate for the use of video surveillance to deter misconduct by officers, use of video teleconferencing for court appearances of jail inmates to cut down on the cost and security risks of transporting up to 1,500 inmates a day to preliminary court hearings. I am looking to break the cycle of recidivism.”

-Tom Dart (D), running for Cook County sheriff

“I’m sorry, but don’t you have to be a cop to be the Cook County sheriff? I am a former deputy sheriff who also worked as an investigator for the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office. I bring to the office what Tom Dart lacks-a badge. And I can say from experience that officers don’t like the fact you have a civilian running a quasi-military organization. This man is operating out of his office in the Cook County jail. I grew up on the West Side. I attended Farragut High School. I’ve been a football coach on the West Side for years. If I am elected, my goals are to reform Cook County Jail by appointing experienced and accountable command staff, increasing jail security, improving facility management, and strengthening personnel training.”

-Peter Garza (R), running for Cook County sheriff