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Just Say No to Joe Berrios

Don Rose 27 February 2018 No Comment

With apologies to nonresidents of Cook County, this is a special commentary on our most important county race.

    Getting rid of  Assessor Joe Berrios in the Democratic primary is the most important thing we can do for Cook’s 5.3 million residents–except for the handful of  property-tax lawyers and their millionaire clients who get their business and residential assessments and taxes reduced at our expense.

  Those lawyers include several of the state’s most powerful politicians, including Speaker of the House Michael Madigan and Alderman Ed Burke.   Berrios also doubles as Cook County Democratic Chairman, which makes it all very cozy for a powerful nest of big-money insiders.

  If you read the papers or watch TV it’s been hard to miss expose after expose of Berrios and the way he conducts his office. He ignores all the rulings of the county’s ethics board by hiring relative after relative into cushy jobs. He’s the king of nepotism, who thinks ethics laws don’t apply to him.

   Worse yet, both a Chicago Tribune expose and an independent study demonstrate that Berrios’s system of appraisal favors wealthy homeowners by underestimating the value of their residences while over-estimating the value of poor people’s properties–creating tax inequities and adding to income inequality.

   He rakes in huge campaign contributions from law firms who seek to have their clients’ assessments reduced, which lowers their property taxes. Somehow the big givers and most powerful pols seem to be the most successful in getting those assessments lowered–which throws more of a tax burden on the rest of the county’s homeowners. Even if you’re a renter, higher taxes increase your rent.


   But here’s the good news.

   After years of exposes and investigations, the voters get it. Poll after poll shows Berrios running well behind his primary challenger, Fritz Kaegi, a professional financial analyst and Certified Illinois Assessment Officer for a major firm for 13 years. He’s a progressive, independent Democrat with the professional skills and program to clean up the office.

   Kaegi has the backing of every good-government organization in the area and virtually every newspaper. Dozens of reform-minded Democratic office-holders and township organizations support him.

   The road, however, has a big bump. A woman named Andrea Raila, also claiming to be a reformer, parachuted into the race with contaminated petitions. She was first thrown off, clearing the way for Kaegi, then magically restored. Many believe she is a Machine plant to siphon  votes from Kaegi, permitting Berrios to squeak through. But even if she is a legit candidate, the effect would be the same–Berrios again.

   Raila wants to capitalize on the increasing woman’s vote, saying she’s the first woman Democrat to run for assessor since 1932.  Many women will be tempted to vote for her, but that would self-defeating. I’m all for more women running and winning elections (decades ago I ran the campaign of the first woman mayor of Chicago) but this is the wrong woman at the wrong time.

  Early voting starts in the neighborhoods March 5. Election day is March 20. (I will have more endorsements next week.

Don Rose is a regular columnist for the Chicago Daily Observer

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