Property Owners Beware

Machine hack in Assessor's race

By Steve Rhodes
|  Friday, Aug 14, 2009  |  Updated 9:37 AM CDT
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Chicago's Political Players

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The Chicago political machine would like more involvement in your property taxes.

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Be afraid. Be very afraid. Joseph Berrios wants to get his hands on your property tax bills.

Berrios is the early front runner to replace the outgoing Cook County Assessor James Houlihan. It's one of the least exciting jobs on the planet,  but one of the more influential posts in local politics -- and only in part because the job entails determining how much your home is worth.

It's also an office that is ripe for abuse; a potential den of favors given and favors owed.

So naturally the Machine wants it back from the relatively reform-minded Houlihan, who has held the post since 1997.

And Berrios, in a sense, is the Machine. He's the chairman of the Cook County Regular Democratic Organization, which doesn't have the same kind of pull it used to, but still pulls strings in the shadows for the benefit of its members.

Berrios was last seen, for example, lobbying members of the General Assembly on behalf of the video poker industry, which successfully pushed through a bill legalizing their services throughout the state.

It probably wasn't hard getting House Speaker and shadow governor Michael Madigan on board, though. Madigan is a property tax lawyer whose firm argues cases in front of Berrios at theCook County Board of Review. That's where folks who are unhappy with the Assessor's work can appeal their valuations.

Berrios is also a master of soliciting campaign funds from the very folks who have interests before him - particularly lawyers, but also appraisers and consultants.

"He is pay-to-play personified," BGA executive director Andy Shaw told veteran Crain's political reporter Greg Hinz.

In his campaign announcement, Berrios vowed "to put taxpayers first" and said he would "make taxpayers his number one priority."

Let's rephrase that a bit: When the day comes that Joe Berrios makes taxpayers his number one priority, that will be a first.

Steve Rhodes is the proprietor of The Beachwood Reporter, a Chicago-centric news and culture review.





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