Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Fear and Loathing at the Cook County GOP Tonight

As I wrote two years ago, politics at the Cook County GOP is similar to what Henry Kissinger said about university politics, “It’s so vicious because so little is at stake.” [See here]. See here and here for more about the 2004 Cook County GOP Convention.

Tonight, the Cook County GOP, along with the other 101 Republican county parties, holds it biennial convention to elect a Cook County GOP chairman and State GOP central committee members, to represent the 19 congressional districts in the state. The 50 Republican Ward Committeemen from the City and 30 Republican Township Committeemen from the suburbs, vote, on a weighted basis, for Cook County COP Chairman.

The convention is at the Hyatt, West Tower, in the Loop. The City of Chicago portion of the meeting starts at 6:00 pm and the Suburban show at 7:00 pm.

Those Republican committeemen who represent townships or wards that are within part or all of a congressional district also have a vote in the election of that Congressional District’s state central committee member. Many of the State Central committee members exercise no discretion and do as they are told by their sponsors, but there are exceptions. For example, they seem to have managed, under the leadership, if not the guidance, of then State Party Chairman Topinka, to make the disastrous decision to select Alan Keyes to replace Jack Ryan, when Jack withdrew as the Republican nominee for the U. S. Senate.

Certain Cook County Republican committeeman will have at least some say in the election of 13 state central committee members. Further, it is reported that more than one candidate is running in 12 of the 19 districts. Competition, the patron saint of the consumer, committeeman and voter. [See here].

The Cook County GOP had been a nothing organization and/or run by a Democratic plant, for decades up until 2002, when Maureen Murphy, Commissioner from the Cook County Board of Review, was elected its Chairman. Maureen made a strong effort to start running and supporting Republican candidates for say, State Rep. and State Senator in many minority areas where the word, Republican, was viewed, at best, as a foreign word. Many, of course, under the adage that “no good deed goes unpunished,” criticized Chairman Murphy’s efforts as a waste of resources. However, Maureen Murphy deserves credit for reviving the notion that the Cook County GOP has the potential to become a viable, countywide organization—and that it could contribute to the re-birth of a Republican Party in Cook County and in the City of Chicago.

Nonetheless, Maureen had her critics, and some of the support in her own base eroded during her brief tenure. Cook County Reform Commissioner Tony Peraica, who even then, was at loggerheads with Maureen, popped up to challenge her re-election at the 2004 Cook County Convention. Peraica had then, and still has, his share of enemies within the Party. A compromise choice, Gary Skoien, Palatine Township Republican Committeeman, emerged as the victor, if you can call having to run the Cook County GOP a win.

So, tonight, Cook County GOP Chairman Gary Skoien,who has managed to make no major enemies in the last two years, will be re-elected easily with 80% to 90% of the weighted vote against his only likely challenger, Tony Castrogiovanni, Berwyn Township Republican Committeeman. Castrogiovanni called into Tom Roeser’s radio show, “Potical Shootout,” a few weeks ago and told Gary Skoien, for the world to hear, that he would support Skoien for Chairman. Now, Castrogiovanni is running against him. Welcome to the Cook County GOP. Castrogiovanni seems to running under the “we hate Peraica,” ticket and he views Skoien as too close to Peraica.

I reported [here] that Maureen Murphy wanted to return as GOP Cook County Chair. Peraica and others had told me that, and it seemed quite credible. This was especially the case in light of the resources and help that were being poured into Lyons Township by Maureen and others, e.g., former State Rep. Eileen Lyons, to take that committeeman title and vote away from Peraica [and give it to a 28 year old sandwich shop owner]. However, Maureen Murphy had told me prior to my writing on that subject that she had no interest in being Cook County GOP Chairman and she was not running and would not run. I inadvertently neglected to report that information and for that, I apologize to Maureen and my gentle readers.

Nevertheless, hostility toward Peraica from Board of Review Commissioner Murphy, Cook County Board member Liz Gorman and many others within the Party remains strong. Maureen, just a few weeks ago, expressed concern to me about a “switcheroo,” i.e., a scenario in which Skoien decides at the last minute not to run for Chairman, and Peraica does, and the Peraica detractors are left with Peraica—a man they view as no better than a tyrannical leader.

As Maureen is fond of saying, “Tony does not play well with others in the sandbox,” a trait she attributes in part to him learning politics and survival in the Daleys’ 11th ward and in the Democratic Party, and having been born and spent his very early boyhood years in war-torn Croatia. In short, Peraica critics and supporters would say, Tony’s weakness is his strength, he is a very, very aggressive, tenacious, no holds barred political scrapper.

Skoien has indicated to me that he would not support Peraica under any circumstances for Chairman. This is because he believes Peraica has to focus on his Cook County Board President race. Others suggest that Peraica might use the Chairman’s role to inappropriately focus the entire Cook County GOP effort on his race, to the neglect of the other candidates, e.g., Cook County Treasurer, Sheriff, etc.

So, the anti- Peraica forces are now focusing their energy on the possible election tonight of a Deputy Cook County GOP Chairman, in case, as they put it, Gary Skoien gets hit by a bus—or maybe falls off a horse. They certainly don’t want that position to be held by Peraica, for all the reasons stated above. And, since even people who can work with Peraica, e.g., Skoien, will not support Peraica for the reasons stated above, the Deputy is unlikely to be Peraica. Nor, is it likely to be someone who is closely aligned or identified with Team Murphy-Gorman-Lyons-Caprio [Paul Caprio is Executive Director of Family-Pac and he has been an ally of Murphy and Gorman]. New Trier Republican Organization Committeeman Tolbert Chisum, who started out supporting Peraica in 2004 for Chairman-- and then threw his support to Skoien, might be a safe, consensus choice. However, a more likely choice for Deputy Cook County GOP Chairman is State Rep. and Schaumburg Committeeman Paul Froehlich, who was an early supporter of Jack Ryan, meaning we have come full circle, sort of.

In other news, tonight, watch for Chicago GOP chairman, Clark Pellett, to have his four year reign cut short, by a special election, called for by a petition with sufficient signatures, for a special election tonight at 6:00 pm. The word on the street is that Clark has been too “territorial,” and has not done much.

I asked Skoien last Friday, in light of the above, whether the Cook County GOP could be unified, especially for Peraica’s run for Cook County Board President. Skoien, who not only is an optimist by birth, but a very smart, charming guy, and who seems to have picked up some of his political skills from Jim Edgar, said,

I am certainly going to work on it and I know Tony is going to work on it and…if people really focus on John Stroger or whoever the candidate is and focus on what is going on in County Government, there should be a good chance that people get united. There is never going to be a great, great love between certain of those factions but I think it is something that can be successfully healed for a successful election.

As most know, a good part of Skoien’s charm is that he is ever the optimist. Tonight, he will need to put that trait to work.
Jeff Berkowitz, Show Host/Producer of "Public Affairs," and Executive Legal Recruiter doing legal search can be reached at