CHICAGO (CBS) - Democrat Joseph Berrios’ victory Tuesday night ended an unusually nasty race for county assessor, against a longtime fellow Democrat who was running as an independent.
Berrios defeated independent challenger Forrest Claypool, capturing about 48 percent of the vote compared to Claypool’s 32 percent. Republican Sharon Strobeck-Eckersall captured 18 percent of the vote, and Green Party candidate Robert Grota won 3 percent, with 99 percent of the precincts reporting.
Claypool conceded Tuesday evening.
The county assessor is an obscure office, with the responsibility of assessing property values for tax purposes. But the race this year got particularly nasty.
In a well-publicized news conference last month, Claypool accused Berrios of pay-to-play politics, claiming that as a member of the county Board of Tax Review, Berrios had been giving tax breaks to his campaign contributors.
Claypool said the Willis Tower, the Chicago Board of Trade, and the Smurfit-Stone Building all had their assessments reduced by millions of dollars, while the tax firms that represent the three iconic buildings all gave four- or five-figure campaign contributions to Berrios’ campaign.
Berrios’ office responded at the time that Claypool didn’t “know how the office operates,” and pointed out that there are three commissioners that grant property tax appeals, not just Berrios.
Claypool also took Berrios to task for hiring relatives in government, calling it a throwback to another era which needs to come to an end.
But in a debate last month, Berrios defended having relatives working at both the Board of Review and in the Assessor’s office, saying if his brothers or other family members want to work in government, they should be allowed to do so.
Berrios also launched his own attack ads against Claypool, calling him a “political insider” who cut a deal to let a private, for-profit company to run parking garages when he was running the Chicago Park District. The ad said the company, Standard Parking, also made a contribution to Claypool, and urged voters to cast their ballots for Berrios, “the Democrat.”
A Claypool attack ad said Berrios was being investigated in another pay-to-play scheme. It referred to a Chicago Magazine story that said an investigation was underway into some dealings at the Board of Tax Review, involving people “linked to the commissioner Joseph Berrios through friends and aide.”
Claypool said he was not yet at the Park District when the contract Berrios mentioned was negotiated, and Berrios called the pay-to-play allegations a “total lie,” the Chicago Tribune reported.
Ultimately, Berrios prevailed, despite Claypool’s endorsement from retiring county Assessor Jim Houlihan.
Berrios, 58, has been involved in Democratic politics since he was a teenager. He is also chairman of the Cook County Democratic Party.
Before being elected to the Board of Tax Review, Berrios served in the Illinois state house from 1982 to 1988. He is the first Latino to be elected county assessor.
Claypool, 53, has served two terms as a commissioner on the Cook County Board, where he gained notoriety for taking on tax hikes, and what he called patronage, waste and bloat, in county government. Together with fellow Democrat Mike Quigley and Republican Tony Peraica, Claypool was known as a foil to board President Todd Stroger, and before that, Stroger’s father and predecessor, John Stroger.
Claypool also served as superintendent of the Chicago Park District from 1993 to 1998, and as chief of staff for Mayor Richard M. Daley for two stints – from 1989 to 1991 and 1998 to 1999.
He also ran unsuccessfully in 2006 against John Stroger for the Democratic nomination for County Board president, even though Stroger suffered a massive stroke just before the election.
Following his loss to Berrios, the popular blog Chicagoist has dubbed Claypool “the Charlie Brown of Cook County politics.”
Chicagoist said before Election Day, Claypool had told WBEZ radio he hoped a suburban “protest” vote would carry him over the edge. The blog went on to criticize Claypool for not paying greater attention to more voting blocs, including African-Americans, Latinos and working-class whites.
“When he ran for County Board President, Claypool ran a campaign that was heavy on the rhetoric of the lakefront liberal, and light on a real message for the very people that Claypool’s policies might help,” Chicagoist said. “If he’s not going to run a real campaign for county-wide office, maybe Claypool should stop running for county-wide office.”