Opinion: Berrios Crosses the Line in 39th House Race

Personal attacks on challenger by incumbent grow harsher as election approaches.

Let’s get one thing straight, right off the bat:

This story is not about Will Guzzardi.

This story is about Toni Berrios.

This story is about all the Illinois politicians who will do whatever it takes to win, no matter how dirty. 

Up to and including casting an opponent as a supporter of sexual predators and using photoshop tricks to make him appear to be the predator. 

Don't believe me? Take a look at some of the recent mailings Maria “Toni” Berrios and her campaign is using against challenger Will Guzzardi in a desperate attempt to keep her seat in the Illinois 39th House District.

Guzzardi, as you know, ran against Berrios for the 39th District seat in 2012, coming within 125 votes of upsetting her. His near-success from out of nowhere—especially as a young do-gooder nobody knew or sent—shocked the political power structure in Illinois.

You know that power structure. It’s the one controlled by Madigan, Joe Berrios and powerful unions that supports incumbent candidates, no matter how ineffectual or criminal or damaging to their constituents they may be.

Like indicted state rep Derrick Smith of the 10th District, who, despite being indicted for taking a $7,000 bribe, has got the backing and support of Madigan’s political army.

Like state rep LaShawn K. Ford of the 8th District. Who, despite being indicted in 2012 for bank fraud, remains on the list of candidates endorsed by the AFL-CIO.

Like Cook County Assessor and Democratic political boss Joe Berrios, who’s kept a list of family members and friends on the public payroll for so long it’s a wonder anybody can keep track of them anymore.

Now comes Maria “Toni” Berrios, who’s up against the political race of her life. A self-described progressive, she likes to tout her warm, caring side in campaign videos showing her listening compassionately to constituents and claiming to fight for the little guy.

And Toni is backed by essentially everyone who’s anyone in that political power structure, from Mike Madigan’s Democratic Majority PAC to the AFL-CIO to her father to Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, who appears at the end of her latest campaign video.

Yet, the truth is, Toni Berrios must know she’s in trouble.

Back in October, Guzzardi ran a poll that showed 50 percent of voters said it was time to elect someone new in the district. And the Guzzardi/Berrios race has long been high on the list of political observers around the state as a critical one to watch on Primary Day.

So, faced with a challenge, what does Toni and the Democratic power structure do? Set out to smear Guzzardi, of course.

First, there was the mailer that said Guzzardi would rob students of an education, even though he is endorsed by the Chicago Teacher’s Union and the Illinois Federation of Teachers. Madigan's PAC, Democratic Majority, paid for that one. 

Then came the mail piece that showed a man suggestively leaning over a teenage girl’s school desk with Guzzardi’s face photoshopped on it.

Then, the kicker. As of this writing, the last mailer directly from and paid for by Citizens for Maria A. Berrios, the candidate’s own campaign committee, shows a picture of a man hiding in the shadows who says “Will Guzzardi doesn't want you to know where sexual predators are hiding.” The back side makes it clear: Guzzardi wants to protect child rapists who live next door to you, along with wife beaters and other sexual criminals.

Where did they get this claim? From a 2006 article Guzzardi wrote for his college newspaper saying courts shouldn't be able to sell misdemeanor criminal records to private companies and potentially violate citizens’ 4th Amendment rights.

And if you think the whole thing isn’t designed to make voters of the 39th Illinois House District think twice about why someone would want to protect rapists, then I have a political bridge in Illinois I can sell you.

The whole thing smacks of desperation. And even more, is morally objectionable at best and repugnant at worst.

And will be doubled down in the days to come, when the Berrios campaign undoubtedly drops thousands of dollars in TV ads repeating the charges.

Over the past months, Ward Room has written about the 39th District race often, perhaps more than a state rep race really deserves.

But like I said—this story isn't about Will Guzzardi. It’s about what the Democratic power structure that really rules this state will do when it’s threatened.

And about every single politician, campaign contributor and union boss who lines up behind those people who think nothing of personally smearing a candidate in the vilest manner possible, simply because he dares to run against a protected incumbent.

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