Democratic County Clerk Karen Yarbrough challenged by Republican Tony Peraica

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Attorney Tony Peraica (left), talks to reporters in 2016; County Clerk Karen Yarbrough (right) speaks during a news conference in June.

Lou Foglia; Brian Rich/Sun-Times-file

Democrat Karen Yarbrough is seeking reelection after becoming the first African-American and first woman to serve as Cook County clerk. 

Challenger Tony Peraica is hoping to beat the Maywood Democrat next week, which would make him the first Republican elected Cook County clerk in well over a century.

The Riverside lawyer has run for County Board president, state’s attorney and treasurer. But he hasn’t held a government position since 2010 when he lost his bid for another term as a Cook County commissioner.  

Yarbrough has served in elective offices for more than two decades, beginning in the state Legislature and moving on to county positions.

The next clerk will serve as the chief election authority for more than 125 municipalities surrounding Chicago that make up suburban Cook County, as well as administer all Cook County vital records.

That might sound a tad dry, but beyond their plans for the office, the two rival candidates and their aides hurl back and forth charges of political misconduct and shenanigans.

Yarbrough said she’s “always looking to improve processes as we go.”

Cook County Clerk Karen Yarbrough speaks during a news conference in Daley Plaza in 2021.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times file

She said she has worked to “completely modernize” the voting process in the Elections Unit by acquiring new touch screen equipment and introducing a new voter registration and election management system. 

She told the Chicago Sun-Times the “guiding mission of her office was accuracy, efficiency and advocacy.” She said she added a cybersecurity division that protects the clerk’s networks, machinery, software, and data. And she said her office has worked to make voting more accessible.

She worked with community colleges to engage young voters and advocated for voting rights of the incarcerated by supporting legislation to make Cook County Jail a polling place in Illinois. She also expanded the number of languages ballots are printed in from five to 12. 

“We’re committed to making sure everybody has access to the ballot, and if they can see that ballot in their own native tongue, that goes a long way,” Yarbrough said.

In addition to overseeing elections, the office’s duties also include keeping numerous records, including birth, marriage and death certificates, tax and land records and various financial and ethics filings of some public officials and lobbyists.

Peraica agrees that modernized offices for elections and daily operations is important, but he said he wants to “improve customer service by shortening long lines and ban the practice of hiring, firing, transferring or promoting clerk employees based on their political preferences.” 

“There is a complete lack of civility and respect for the taxpayers who fund that office,” Peraica told the Sun-Times. 

Then Cook County Commissioner Tony Peraica holds a news conference in Daley Plaza in 2010.

Keith Hale/Sun-Times file

“Ms. Yarbrough does nothing but hire people continually based on political considerations, donations to her campaign or donations to a Democratic political party,” the Republican challenger said.

Asked about Peraica’s accusations, Yarbrough’s Deputy Clerk of Communications Sally Daly said that there was “no evidence of illegal hiring practices” and that “the claims were just not factual.”

Daly noted Peraica’s own conviction a decade ago for tampering with a rival’s campaign signs. 

The Republican was sentenced to four months of court supervision in 2012 after a judge found him guilty of defacing Democratic rival Jeffrey Tobolski’s signs just days before the 2010 election for Peraica’s County Board seat.

Tobolski won that election, but a decade later he faced his own more serious criminal trouble, pleading guilty in 2020 to extortion conspiracy and filing a false tax return relating to his jobs as a county commissioner and mayor of west suburban McCook. 

Jeffrey Tobolski, who formerly was a Cook County Board member and mayor of McCook, waits in an elevator in 2019.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times file

Asked about Daly’s remark, Peraica noted Tobolski’s ultimate legal fate and called his own conviction a “phony arrest” arising from “political chicanery by my opponent Jeff Tobolski.”

“That was absolutely not true, the whole charge was false, but politics in Cook County … that kind of thing happens unfortunately,” Peraica said of the sign defacing episode. 

A lawyer in private practice, Peraica served as a Cook County commissioner from 2002 to 2010 and unsuccessfully ran for Board president in 2006 and state’s attorney two years later. He also ran for county treasurer in 1998.

Yarbrough was sworn in as a state representative in 2001, elected Cook County recorder of deeds in 2012 and clerk in 2018. When the recorder’s office was eliminated, she assumed all duties of that office as county clerk in 2020.

Libertarian candidate Joseph Schreiner said on his website he wants to “legally end the Democratic and Republican COVID war on the people of Cook County.”

Democrats have had a lock on the clerk’s office since 1910, when Republican Joseph Haas lost his bid for a second term.

“I am not a career government employee,” Peraica said. “I am a business person from the private sector who wants to bring a good government to the county clerk’s office.”

Yarbrough said she doesn’t know enough about Peraica to speak about him. “The only person I can really talk about is Karen Yarbrough,” she said.

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November 2, 2022 at 05:09AM

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