County Board member Forrest Claypool is a white liberal goo-goo, desperately looking for a place to land.
This morning, Claypool announced his candidacy as an independent for Cook County Assessor. He’ll be running against his own party’s candidate, Joseph Berrios, who is also boss of the entire Cook County Democratic Party.
“Joe Berrios was carried across the finish line by ward bosses in a record-low turnout election," Claypool wrote in an e-mail to supporters today. “As Assessor, I'll stand up for homeowners and average taxpayers against those using clout as an excuse to manipulate the system.”
At 52, Claypool has spent most of his career as a political gadfly and hanger-on, but has never won the big office he covets. He was Mayor Daley’s chief of staff, then beat a broken-down Polish machine hack named Ted Lechowicz for a spot on the county board.
In 2006, he narrowly lost a county board race against John Stroger, who suffered a stroke the weekend before the election. The ward bosses passed Claypool over as a replacement candidate, choosing Stroger’s son, Todd. This year, Claypool decided not to run against Todd, stepping aside in favor of Toni Preckwinkle.
Instead, he wants to be assessor, a job he says he’s seeking because he “served as the deputy commissioner of the Board of (Property Tax) Appeals under Pat Quinn. Pat and I came into office following the largest tax bribery scandal in American history. We instituted tough new ethics standards and opened up the process for average taxpayers.”
Claypool’s problem is that everyone likes good government, but no one likes a goo-goo. His wholesome image is certainly a contrast to Boss Berrios, who looks as though he eats breakfast, lunch, dinner and a midnight snack at O’Brien’s Steakhouse. But it’s going to be hard to get the average voter excited about the assessor’s office -- or about a white liberal reformer. Claypool will be endorsed by the newspaper editorial boards and the IVI-IPO, he'll be embraced by bloggers, and he’ll find plenty of volunteers in Evanston, Oak Park and Hyde Park.
But Chicago is a tough town for a white liberal. David Hoffman, a candidate whose profile was similar to Claypool’s, lost the Senate primary to Alexi Giannoulias, in part because he came off as a tattle-tale. Pat Quinn managed to make it to the governor’s office, but only because he was elected lieutenant governor on the same ticket as the hinky Rod Blagojevich. In this year’s primary, Quinn would never have beaten Dan Hynes without the power of incumbency.
In Illinois, the goo-goo vote is just not big enough to form a base for those candidates. In recent years, the most successful reformers have been Barack Obama and Toni Preckwinkle, black candidates who fused their communities’ votes with white liberals’.
So Claypool can rage against the machine all he wants, shrieking about clout, ward bosses and insider tax assessments. We’ll see if anyone listens to a goo-goo.