By H. LEE WHACK JR and DAMIAN BUTTEL, Medill News Service

Todd Stroger needed a strong showing in Chicago’s black and Latino wards to make him the next county board president, and voters there didn’t disappoint, delivering enough votes to overcome a strong suburban showing from Republican Commissioner Tony Peraica.

With a majority of the precincts reporting early Wednesday, Stroger, a Chicago alderman, was leading the race with 55 percent of the vote to Peraica’s 44 percent. He was winning two out of three city votes but trailing in suburban Cook.

Stroger was getting strong support from south suburban voters in Thornton and Proviso townships, said state Sen. Martin Sandoval (12th). With those votes and his winning city percentage, “it looks very good for Todd,” he said.

But on Wednesday, Peraica threatened to go to court over his claims that there were delays in the counting of undecided voters late Tuesday. Supporters of Peraica and Stroger descended at the downtown Cook County election headquarters overnight to protest the delays while votes were still being counted. More than 100 people converged at headquarters, according to media reports.

One person was arrested for damaging an elevator at the headquarters, according to media accounts. A Cook County official was reported in the media saying that an individual from one of the campaigns tried to wrestle away vote-counting materials from people attempting to deliver them to election headquarters.

The votes that counted…counted

At Stroger’s campaign headquarters at the Hyatt East Towers Hotel Tuesday, the mood was upbeat and confident, and Stroger aides predicted their candidate would win easily. Speaking to reporters early in the evening, Stroger predicted that voters would respond to the support he received from Sen. Barack Obama and Mayor Richard M. Dale.

“I’ve been all over this town,” said the 43-year-old Stroger. “I don’t believe in nail biting. Cook County is a Democratic county.”

But Stroger’s city totals were well below the winning margins of other county Democrats, and Peraica spokesman Dan Proft said “anything over 30 percent for Peraica in the city is right on target.”

“It’s far from over,” Proft said, adding that many votes from Schaumburg,

Wheeling, Elk Grove and Palatine townships remained to be counted.

The 47-year-old Peraica was polling well in the suburban Cook County, with 61 percent of the vote percent of the vote. He was winning handily in some North and Northwest Side city wards, but it wasn’t enough to overcome Stroger’s strong showing in the rest of the city, particularly in the predominantly black wards of the South and West sides.

In the South Side 8th ward, where his father, former Board President John H. Stroger Jr., is the longtime committeeman, Stroger was polling 10,000 votes to Peraica’s 500 Tuesday.

Peraica aides would not concede the race, saying they preferred to wait until more votes came in from suburban Cook County townships. Vote totals were slow coming in from the suburbs because the votes from the 32,000 people who cast early ballots created a backlog to count Tuesday’s votes.

“Accuracy is the key, guys,” said County Clerk David Orr. “This is really not a big deal. If anybody knows computers, they wouldn’t be surprised at all.”

Charges and counter charges

The board president’s race was largely a fight to see which candidate could make the other look less desirable. Peraica charged that Stroger was the product of a corrupt nomination process and would do nothing to reform county government.

In campaign commercials, Stroger called Peraica a “George Bush radical” whose pro-gun, anti-abortion and anti-gay positions were out of step with county voters.

Despite the mud-slinging, the candidates vowed to address some of the county’s more pressing issues if elected.

Peraica railed against the corruption and patronage in Cook County government that caused a $400 million deficit in this year’s budget and which threatens to strangle the budget for 2007.

The hallmark of his campaign was “Have you had enough?”-a call to voters to elect a candidate that would reform county government.

Peraica pledged to revamp the bloated county budget by eliminating non-performing employees, ending hiring and firing based on political clout, and increasing contract awards to minority businesses. He pledged also that if elected, he would not increase taxes.

In campaign commercials, Stroger labeled Peraica as a “George Bush radical,” citing the Republican’s anti-abortion and anti-gay and pro-gun positions.

Stroger said he recognized that the county government had problems, but offered little in the way of solutions.

He said he would conduct a national search for an inspector-general that would rout out corruption in county government and would use the technology his father didn’t understand to run the county more efficiently.

Stroger also attempted to distance himself from the corruption and patronage of his father’s tenure, saying, “I am my own person. No one calls my shots.”

The contentious race began in March when John Stroger suffered a stroke a week before the Democratic primary election.