Don’t make too much of the perfect storm that swamped Joe Berrios

The result was resounding and, for many of us, deeply satisfying.

Challenger Fritz Kaegi trounced incumbent Cook County Assessor Joe Berrios in Tuesday’s primary by nearly 12 percentage points, 45.5 percent to 33.9 percent with 98 percent of precincts reporting. Kaegi and his fellow challenger Andrea Raila, both of whom ran pledging reform and transparency, combined to give Berrios such an emphatic heave-ho that it inspired both the Tribune and Sun-Times to begin post-election editorials with the same three congratulatory words to voters, “You did it.”

Berrios, the chairman of the Cook County Democratic Party was so entrenched four years ago that he didn’t even have a primary opponent. He was backed this year by the party establishment, including Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and House Speaker Michael Madigan, the sort of boost which, for a generally low-profile office like assessor, is almost always enough for an easy victory.

Kaegi’s victory was a thumb in the eye to that establishment — to the men and women who slate candidates, coordinate with interest groups, raise money, direct foot-soldiers and so on in order to limit your choices at the ballot box (did you notice how many candidates were running unopposed for re-election?) and maintain a firm hold on the levers of power. But it was not a knife to the heart.

Three unusual factors contributed to Berrios’ defeat.

One was that high property taxes had become a particularly prominent issue as the state’s budget crisis deepened and politicians argued about freezing or otherwise limiting them. Illinois has the second highest effective rate in the nation and even though assessors don’t set the rates or overall levies — they just estimate property values — they become a target of anger when the bills arrive.

Two was that a wealthy challenger, Kaegi, proved willing to kick $1.6 million of his own money into an effort to become a county assessor (Raila and her company donated $335,000 to her bid).

Three, and most important, journalism happened.

In June 2017, an unprecedented analysis by the Tribune’s Jason Grotto with John Chase and David Kidwell found “that for years the county’s property tax system created an unequal burden on residents, handing huge financial breaks to homeowners who are well-off while punishing those who have the least, particularly people living in minority communities.”

The three-part investigatory series hammered Berrios for overseeing an opaque, inaccurate and outmoded process. Then in December 2017, Grotto, who had moved to ProPublica Illinois, led a joint follow-up investigation with the Tribune that found “commercial and industrial property assessments throughout Cook County (have been) so riddled with errors that they created deep inequities, punishing small businesses while cutting a break to owners of high-value properties and helping fuel a cottage industry of politically powerful tax attorneys.”

In mid-February, an independent analysis by the Civic Consulting Alliance that had been commissioned by the county after the first round of investigatory reports concluded that, indeed, just as the reporters had found, Berrios had been overseeing “a very regressive system” causing “a wealth transfer from owners of lower-value homes to those of higher-value homes.”

Editorial writers and columnists from across the political spectrum took turns administering the rhetorical lash.

Yes, party bigwigs remained formally behind Berrios, but their support seemed tepid. Preckwinkle, when challenged to defend Berrios, faintly praised him for getting the tax bills out on time. Anecdotal reports said local operatives were leaving Berrios off their palm cards or even actively plumping for Kaegi.

A perfect storm took out Berrios, not a sea change.

The Democratic establishment took a few other small hits in Tuesday’s primaries — veteran state Rep. Dan Burke, brother of Chicago Ald. Ed Burke, 14th, for example, was defeated by Aaron Ortiz in a Southwest Side district that is 68 percent Hispanic. Incumbent state Sen. Ira Silverstein of Chicago also lost, even though he received financial support from Senate President John Cullerton. But that was almost certainly because a special legislative inspector general found earlier this year that Silverstein’s extended flirtation with a victims’ rights advocate constituted conduct “unbecoming of a legislator.”

In the other big races, however, insiders and chosen ones did fine. J.B. Pritzker, the party’s anointed candidate for governor, scored a surprisingly lopsided 19 percentage point victory over second-place finisher state Sen. Daniel Biss; state Sen. Kwame Raoul, the party’s anointed candidate for attorney general, squeaked past former Gov. Pat Quinn and Preckwinkle cruised to a 21 percentage point victory over former Ald. Bob Fioretti.

Democratic voters were not so much in the mood to throw the bums out as they were to throw a bum out — Joe Berrios.

And yes, huzzah, they did it.

Just don’t look for them to make a habit of it.

Twitter @EricZorn

Don’t make too much of the perfect storm that swamped Joe Berrios

Rhoads: God Bless Jeanne Ives

By Mark Rhoads Ives2– 

When Bruce Rauner first ran in the GOP Primary of 2014, he had no record at all of affiliation with the Republican Party. Even so, some conservatives wished him well based on the hope that he could be more conservative than Democrats.

But that hope did not develop and Rauner was a profound disappointment compared to what many Republicans wanted. Jeanne Ives deserves the thanks of authentic conservative Republicans for offering GOP voters a clear choice Tuesday.

May God bless Jeanne and her family and supporters for their courage in standing up for principles. 

Rhoads: God Bless Jeanne Ives

Campaign between Rauner, Pritzker expected to be expensive, brutal and long

Democratic billionaire J.B. Pritzker will take on wealthy Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner in November, a race expected to easily shatter Illinois campaign spending records and make a run at the national mark.

Both candidates enter a nearly eight-month general election campaign needing to unify their respective parties following bruising primary campaigns. More than half of Democratic voters preferred one of the other five candidates to Pritzker, while Rauner narrowly beat back a strong challenge from conservative state Rep. Jeanne Ives.

Rauner and Pritzker also will compete for independent voters, with the suburbs once again expected to be a battleground as they were in 2014. Back then, Rauner narrowly defeated Democrat Pat Quinn.

To a large extent, Rauner’s task is the more daunting. It’s difficult for a Republican to win statewide in Democrat-leaning Illinois, and this fall is a midterm election in which Republican President Donald Trump remains deeply unpopular here. In 2014, Rauner spent $65.3 million and defeated Quinn by a scant 4 percentage points.

A year ago, Rauner had expected to cruise unchallenged into November. But he barely survived the Ives insurgency after he initially belittled her as opposition from the “fringe.” Ives’ campaign pushed socially conservative themes to attack Rauner on abortion, immigration and transgender rights.

The result: a governor politically embarrassed and severely wounded from within his base. He now faces trying to unite Republicans as well as finding ways to reach out to appeal to general election voters.

“This primary election was hard fought. Yes,” Rauner said, offering congratulations “to my opponent on her principled stand,” though he did not use Ives’ name.

“To those of you around the state of Illinois who wanted to send me a message, let me be clear: I have heard you. I have traveled the state and I have listened to you,” Rauner said. “While we disagree on some things, let’s commit to working together on what unites us — the reforms we need to save our state.”

For her part, Ives did not say during her concession speech that she would support Rauner in the fall.

Republican state Rep. David McSweeney of Barrington Hills, an Ives backer, said the primary “showed that Gov. Rauner has a lot of work to do to try and gain back the trust of Republican voters. … The ball is in Rauner’s court to take actions to show that he actually wants conservative support.”

Rauner and Ives split roughly 650,000 votes in the GOP primary, with some ballots yet to be counted. That compares with more than 540,000 votes that Pritzker got alone in capturing nearly half the votes in a six-way Democratic primary contest.

For the first stop of the general election campaign on Wednesday, Rauner picked St. Charles in Kane County. Ives defeated Rauner there by more than 1,700 votes. Pritzker’s camp had yet to release a Wednesday schedule of appearances.

General elections usually are a referendum on the governor. That’s where Rauner will have work to do after nearly four years in office that have been marked by ideological strife — and a record-setting budget impasse — in battling against Democrats who control the state legislature.

But Rauner is trying to shift the contest from a referendum on his leadership to the leadership of Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan, the Southwest Side lawmaker who has run the chamber for 35 of the past 37 years and also heads the state Democratic Party.

“I am the one person who can beat J.B. Pritzker and Madigan, and I will beat J.B. Pritzker and Madigan,” the Republican governor said during a campaign stop last week.

“We are going to blow him up and take him down,” Rauner said. “If Pritzker were to win, it would (be) turn the lights out in Illinois. And I’m going to pound him, we’re gonna beat him, and I’m excited to do it.”

Throughout the primary campaign, Rauner sought to damage Pritzker through ads linking him to imprisoned former Gov. Rod Blagojevich and Madigan.

The Chicago Tribune reported that in November 2008, Pritzker was caught on federal wiretaps asking Blagojevich to appoint him state treasurer and strategizing with the soon-to-be-arrested governor on who to appoint to President-elect Barack Obama’s U.S. Senate seat.

In early February, Pritzker scrambled to rebuild support with African-American voters after the Tribune published recordings that showed Pritzker discussing potential black Senate candidates. Pritzker called Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White the “least objectionable” contender while speaking in blunt terms about others.

Pritzker also sought to defend offshore holdings as part of his longstanding philanthropy despite allegations from his opponents that he was using them to try to avoid taxes. And he was attacked for disconnecting toilets at a Gold Coast mansion to gain a reduction in his property assessment.

Rauner has called Pritzker “a tax dodger, he hides his money in the Cayman Islands. He rips toilets out of mansions he buys (so) he doesn’t have to pay the full property taxes on it. He tried to buy a Senate seat from Blagojevich.”

But Pritzker has consistently maintained that Rauner has been a “failure” as governor, citing the lengthy budget impasse’s effect on shredding a safety net of social service programs. The Democrat has called out Rauner for “fatal mismanagement” over the Legionnaires’ disease-related deaths at a state veterans home in Quincy.

Pritzker again called Rauner “a failure” during his Tuesday night victory speech. But in a sign of her role for the fall campaign, Pritzker largely left the attacks on the governor to running mate state Rep. Juliana Stratton of Chicago.

“Bruce Rauner is a desperate man and in his desperation he’s going to do everything he can to distract from his unprecedented record of failure. And it’s going to be a fight like we’ve never seen. And to win it, J.B. and I will need every single one of you in our corner,” Stratton said.

“Together, we’re going to take down Bruce Rauner,” she said before using one of Rauner’s 2014 campaign themes: “We’re going to take back Illinois.”

In a thank-you message to supporters Tuesday night, Pritzker warned: “The fight isn’t over yet. All the values we care about, that have been threatened by Donald Trump and Bruce Rauner, are still at stake.”

“So I ask you the question I’ve asked many times before — are you ready for the fight?”

And that fight will be fought as a cash war.

It’s questionable whether the race will top the nation’s most expensive governor’s race in history, the 2010 California contest that saw former Gov. Jerry Brown defeat former Hewlett Packard CEO Meg Whitman. About $280 million was spent in that race.

But the spending in Illinois already has been significant.

In December 2016, Rauner, a private equity investor, put $50 million of his own money into his early re-election campaign as “seed money” with promises of more to come. That totals $95 million in both Rauner’s initial 2014 bid and in his current re-election effort.

Then in May 2017, billionaire Citadel hedge fund founder and CEO Ken Griffin added another $20 million to the Republican governor’s campaign. It is believed to be the largest single outside donation directly to a political candidate.

Pritzker, whose worth is estimated at $3.5 billion by Forbes, also has used his deep pockets, putting $69.5 million into his primary campaign — an Illinois record for self-funding by a candidate.

Twitter @rap30


Billionaire J.B. Pritzker wins Illinois Democratic governor primary on strength of $70 million campaign »

Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner ekes out narrow victory over challenger Ives »

Millions of dollars’ worth of TV ads later, Illinois governor candidates now need people to vote »

Campaign between Rauner, Pritzker expected to be expensive, brutal and long

Morning Spin: 10 things to know about Tuesday’s primary election results

Welcome to Clout Street: Morning Spin, our weekday feature to catch you up with what’s going on in government and politics from Chicago to Springfield. Subscribe here.


The upshot on Tuesday night’s primary election: The chairman of the Cook County Democrats went down, a political comeback attempt by an ex-governor fell short, and a sitting governor got the scare of his political career.

Let’s break it down:

1. Big wins for big spenders: Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and Democratic nominee J.B. Pritzker are left standing after a bruising governor primary on both sides. For Rauner, the narrow margin of his victory over state Rep. Jeanne Ives represents a significant blow as he tries to win re-election in a Democratic-leaning state. Pritzker beat Kenilworth developer Chris Kennedy and Evanston state Sen. Daniel Biss after putting nearly $70 million into his campaign. Still, half of Democratic voters preferred someone else to the nominee.

2. Berrios goes down: Cook County Assessor Joe Berrios conceded to challenger Fritz Kaegi in a race chock full of legal and voting questions that lingered as late as Tuesday. If Kaegi’s victory stands – a third candidate filed a legal challenge Tuesday evening – it would also mark a loss for the Cook County Democratic establishment Berrios leads and for his ally, state party chairman Michael Madigan. Momentum for Kaegi, a mutual fund asset manager from Oak Park, was built on his pledge to make the property tax assessment system fairer, theme bolstered by the Tribune’s and Pro-Publica Illinois’ “The Tax Divide” series.

3. Lipinski bests Newman, maybe: U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski clung to a narrow lead late Tuesday, and challenger Marie Newman didn’t concede. “I would like Mr. Lipinski to have a very painful evening,” she said. “So we are going to wait.” The race was seen as a national encapsulation of progressives’ war on more conservative Democrats. Lipinski did well in the city and held margins there big enough to hold off Newman’s success in the suburbs.

4. No return for Quinn: Former Gov. Pat Quinn fell short in his bid to return to statewide office, ceding the Democratic attorney general nomination to state Sen. Kwame Raoul. Urbana attorney and former Miss America Erika Harold prevailed on the Republican side.

5. Burke dynasty threatened: State Rep. Dan Burke lost to young challenger Aaron Ortiz, who was backed by Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia. The fallout could include Garcia looking for a challenger to longtime 14th Ward Ald. Ed Burke, who saw his brother go down to defeat in a heavily Latino territory. A primer on that possibility here.

6. Silverstein lost bigly: State Sen. Ira Silverstein scored only 30 percent of the vote in his re-election bid, losing to union lobbyist Ram Villavalam. Silverstein held the seat for nearly 20 years, but a victims right advocate publicly accused him of sexual harassment on Oct. 31. Although a legislative watchdog cleared him of that charge, Silverstein was found to have engaged in conduct unbecoming of a state legislator. Senate President John Cullerton came to Silverstein’s aide, but it proved a lost cause. Looking ahead, 50th Ward Ald. Debra Silverstein is expected to be on the city ballot next year. Will her husband’s loss Tuesday lead her to be viewed as politically vulnerable?

7. Preckwinkle regains strength: County Board President Toni Preckwinkle thumped ex-Chicago Ald. Bob Fioretti. When Preckwinkle rolled out a last-minute endorsement by former President Barack Obama over the weekend, it could have portended a close contest. Turns out, Preckwinkle simply wasn’t taking any chances. She got 60 percent of the vote to win in a landslide. For Preckwinkle, that could help strengthen her hand during what she has said will be her final term. Preckwinkle had been damaged after her high-profile failed pop tax last year.

8. Fritchey loses: John Fritchey, a former state lawmaker who’s been on the County Board, lost his re-election bid. Fritchey opposed the pop tax but got smoked by 10 percentage points by challenger Bridget Degnan, who was backed by unions.

9. Pot question passes: Cook County voters favored legalizing recreational marijuana use by a wide margin – 68 percent in favor to 32 percent against. But pot is not legal this morning. The ballot question was advisory, but state lawmakers looking to legalize weed could point to the tally when trying to round up support at the Capitol.

10. IL-10 too close to call?: Democratic U.S. Rep. Brad Schneider might have to wait a little longer to find out who his fall opponent is. Less than 300 votes separated conservative Douglas Bennett from Jeremy Wynes, a first-time candidate.


What’s on tap

*Mayor Rahm Emanuel has no public events scheduled.

*Gov. Bruce Rauner will start a statewide campaign tour in St. Charles.


What we’re writing (primary election edition)

*Fall governor race look-ahead: Rauner-Pritzker campaign expected to be expensive, brutal and long.

*Republican governor primary: Rauner claims narrow victory over Ives.

*Democratic governor primary: Pritzker cruises to win after $70 million campaign.

*Attorney general: Raoul emerges victorious, ending Quinn’s comeback attempt. GOP’s Harold easily wins.

*Cook County assessor: Embattled Berrios concedes to challenger Kaegi.

*Cook County board president: Preckwinkle skates despite pop tax backlash. In commissioner races, Fritchey loses.

*IL-3: Lipinski with slim lead over challenger Newman.

*IL-4: “Chuy” Garcia headed toward a promotion to Congress.

*General Assembly roundup: Silverstein loses after sexual harassment allegations; Ald. Burke’s brother loses to Garcia-backed challenger.

*House GOP leader Durkin leads Burr Ridge mayor in rare primary challenge.

*Turnout: “Disappointing,” city election official said.

*Election results can be found here.

*DuPage County has vote counting problems.

Morning Spin: 10 things to know about Tuesday’s primary election results

Incumbents, money triumph in several contentious Illinois primaries

(NEW YORK) — Money was the big winner in a marque Illinois primary race Tuesday night as two multi-millionaires faced off in the governor’s race.

In a key Democratic congressional primary featuring Blue Dog Democrat Rep. Dan Lipinski and Democratic progressive activist Marie Newman, it took until the early hours of the morning for the incumbent to emerge victorious.

And in a landmark year for female candidates, the Illinois House primaries seem, thus far, to be following the national trend.

Here’s are some of the results in the Illinois primary races.

Governor’s race goes big

The race to become Illinois’ next governor continued on its track to be one of, if not the most expensive gubernatorial races in American history on Tuesday night, as two self-funding candidates who have already poured millions into their campaigns advanced to the November general election.

The Associated Press projected that Democrat J.B. Pritzker, heir to the Hyatt Hotel fortune, and incumbent GOP Governor Bruce Rauner won their respective primaries Tuesday night.

Rauner, who poured over $50 million of his own money into his campaign and is widely viewed as the most vulnerable Republican governor in the country, barely held off a primary challenge from conservative State Rep. Jeanne Ives, winning by a little more than 20,000 votes.

Dogged by a budget crisis during his tenure, Rauner has seen his approval rating dip into the 30’s heading towards November, and his performance Tuesday night only further reinforces the narrative that even those in his own party are skeptical of his effectiveness as governor.

But regardless of the margins Tuesday night, more money is now expected to flow into the race now that two independently wealthy candidates will be on the ballot in November.

If the current rate of spending holds, Illinois could break the current record for the most expensive gubernatorial race in American history, a title currently held by California’s 2010 gubernatorial election, which saw roughly $280 million spent.

“It’s entirely possible that that could happen here. The only two people who know how expensive the race will be are the two self-funders,” Sarah Brune, the executive director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, a non-partisan group that tracks political spending in the state, told ABC News.

“All in sum, all of the candidates for governor have raised about $160 million so far,” Brune said, an impressive total considering the general election campaign just now getting underway.

The Democratic Governors Association (DGA) praised Pritzker’s victory Tuesday night, saying he is a candidate that will deliver “much-needed change for Illinois.”

“With a strong candidate like JB Pritzker, Illinois is a top pickup opportunity for Democrats in the fall. The DGA looks forward to working to elect JB Pritzker to serve as Illinois’ next governor,” said Washington Governor Jay Inslee, who chairs the DGA.

The DGA also ran television ads in the waning days of the campaign hoping to boost Ives by reinforcing her conservative credentials and hurt Rauner, a move that appears to have paid dividends Tuesday night.

Lipinski emerges as victor in tight 3rd Congressional District race

It was a nail-biter in one of the most-watched congressional races in the country, but seven-term incumbent Rep. Dan Lipinski will likely head towards an eighth term in Illinois 3rd Congressional District after a narrow projected victory over his opponent, Marie Newman.

The Associated Press called the race at 1:17 a.m. EST with 97 percent of precincts reporting and Lipinski holding a slim edge of fewer than 1,600 votes over Newman.

On the Republican side in the 3rd Congressional District, Holocaust denier and self-described “white racialist” Arthur Jones captured the party’s nomination after running unopposed.

‘Pink wave’ hits Illinois House primaries

Heading into the Illinois House primary races, 17 women were vying to win a spot in the November general election. At least six will be on the ballot in November as of late Tuesday night.

Incumbents Democratic Reps. Robin Kelly, Jan Schakowsky, and Cheri Bustos all won their contests. First-time candidate Betsy Dirksen Londrigan will run against GOP Rep. Rodney Davis and Lauren Underwood will run against Republican Rep. Randy Hultgren in November.

Sara Dady in IL-16 came out on top in the Democratic primary race to ultimately run against GOP Rep. Adam Kinzinger this fall.

Marie Newman fell just short in her hotly contested primary battle with Lipinski.

Kelly Mazeski leads the pack in IL-06, a race that had five women vying to take on Rep. Peter Roskam in November’s general election.

Suburbs set the stage for a battle for the House

Democrats see the path to the 24 seats they need to regain control of the House as going through the nation’s suburbs.

Prosecutor Brendan Kelly won the Democratic primary to take on GOP Rep. Mike Bost. Donald Trump carried this district, which sits outside the St. Louis suburbs, by 15 points.

This race is in Democrats’ “red to blue” program, meaning it’s one they are going to heavily invest in.

Bost has long ties to the district. He’s represented it since 2015 in Congress and before that was in the Illinois House of Representatives.

Both men are about evenly matched in fundraising.

Kelly has raised almost a million for his bid and had $663,000 cash on hand while Bost raised a little over a million and had $684,000 cash on hand, according to FEC reports.

Female candidates dominated the other two contests in suburban districts.

First-time candidate Betsy Londrigan won the nomination to take on Republican Rep. Rodney Davis in the fight to represent a suburban district outside of Champaign which Trump won by three points.

She has a compelling personal story, saying she was inspired to run after Davis voted in favor of the GOP health care plan, The American Health Care Act.

Londrigan’s candidate biography notes that in 2009 her 12-year-old son, Jack, was fighting a rare, life-threatening illness that resulted from a tick bite. He eventually recovered.

A former teacher, she has been self-employed since 1998, doing fundraising for people like Sen. Dick Durbin and for entities including the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library Foundation. She was endorsed by EMILY’s List.

Finally, there’s the 6th Congressional District seat west of Chicago held by five-term GOP Rep. Peter Roskam.

Clinton won this seat by seven points in 2016 and it’s a heavy Democratic target this cycle.

Kelly Mazeski, a scientist, leads the Democratic primary with 84 percent of precincts reporting but the race has yet to be called by the Associated Press as of early Wednesday morning.

Energy executive Sean Casten is close behind her in second place.

Five women are among the seven candidates running for the Democratic nomination.

Mazeski has the backing of EMILY’s List and Illinois Democratic Reps. Cheri Bustos and Jan Schakowsky. A breast cancer survivor, Mazeski announced her candidacy last May on the same day Roskam joined his fellow Republicans in voting to repeal Obamacare.

Republicans are downplaying concerns about this district.

One GOP strategist pointed out that Roskam has long ties the district. He grew up in the area and represented it in the state legislature from 1993 until he was elected to Congress in 2007.

Republicans also believe their tax cut message will play well here and in other suburban races.

Garcia could represent Latino-majority district

Democratic Rep. Luis Gutierrez is retiring after more than 20 years in Congress. Hillary Clinton won his Latino-majority district in 2016 with more than 80 percent of the vote.

Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, the winner of the Democratic primary, is highly favored to win the general election November and be the next member of Congress.

Garcia had been contemplating another run against Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel in 2019 before Gutierrez announced his retirement. But he quickly pivoted to the congressional race and was endorsed by Gutierrez. In 2015, Garcia forced Emanuel into a runoff for the city’s top spot.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Incumbents, money triumph in several contentious Illinois primaries

A Political Boss Goes Down

When it comes to politics, there’s nowhere like Illinois. Throughout the election season, ProPublica Illinois reporter and political junkie Mick Dumke will analyze the state’s political issues and personalities in this occasional column.

If video killed the radio star, big money is sealing the fate of the old Democratic machine.

Cook County Assessor Joe Berrios, one of the last remaining machine bosses, conceded early Tuesday night to a political newcomer, a nobody, as the old pols used to say. Fritz Kaegi’s apparent victory — pending a possible court challenge by a third candidate to void the election — came after he vowed to fix what has been exposed as a faulty assessment process, one that burdens lower-income property owners while helping the wealthy.

But Kaegi wasn’t just any reformer promising to clean up this town. He delivered his message by pouring more than $1.5 million of his own money into his campaign.

As the assessor’s race unfolded over the last several months — and especially as the results began to come in last night — I kept thinking about how Berrios got his start in politics nearly 50 years ago: His alderman used clout to get rid of a speeding ticket for him.

It wasn’t his first ticket, and Berrios, then 17, was worried about losing his driver’s license. That would have been a serious financial blow to him and his working-class family, he said in a 2016 interview with me and Ben Joravsky of the Chicago Reader. Berrios’ parents were from Puerto Rico, and during his early years, his family lived at the Cabrini-Green public housing development before moving to the Humboldt Park neighborhood.

At a neighbor’s urging, Berrios mentioned the ticket to his precinct captain, one of those guys who’d been given a government job in return for keeping residents happy and getting them to vote for the machine. The precinct captain took Berrios to meet the boss of the 31st Ward, Alderman Tom Keane.

Joseph Berrios speaks about his start in politics in an October 2016 conversation with journalists Mick Dumke and Ben Joravsky, during their “First Tuesdays at the Hideout” live show.
(Video by Chris Buddy)

Berrios said he had no idea Keane was one of the most powerful men in the city, controlling not just his Northwest Side ward but the entire City Council as the right-hand man to Mayor Richard J. Daley. As Berrios stood before Keane’s desk, the alderman noted that the neighborhood was changing. He suggested Berrios volunteer for him.

“He said, ‘You know, we’re looking for some Hispanic kids to join the organization,’” Berrios recalled. Berrios understood that Keane was offering him a deal: You help me connect with Hispanic voters and I’ll help you take care of your speeding ticket. Berrios agreed.

Sure enough, when Berrios showed up for his court hearing, the judge immediately found him not guilty. “I was amazed,” Berrios said. “And that’s how, really, I got started in the game.”

Berrios, worried about finding work when he finished school, was happy for the chance to join the machine. He said his first patronage job was cleaning bathrooms in Humboldt Park.

“You’d be surprised, under the old system, how many people we were able to help on a day-to-day basis,” Berrios said. “Most Hispanics didn’t finish high school back then. It created opportunities for people who would not have had an opportunity.”

But the system also enabled corruption. In 1974, Keane was convicted in federal court of mail fraud for a scheme involving the purchase of tax-delinquent land in city auctions. He then installed his wife as alderman while the ward organization was run by a former aide — who ended up going to federal prison, too.

Meanwhile, Berrios rose through the ranks. In 1983, he became the first Hispanic to serve in the Illinois General Assembly. By 2007, he was chairman of the Cook County Democratic Party, and three years later, he was elected assessor. He also is an owner of a firm that lobbies government officials.

Following in Keane’s tradition, Berrios used his positions to put family members on the public payroll.

Yet his grip on power began slipping. Federal court decrees prohibit political hiring and firing for most local government positions, and the ward organizations don’t have as many jobs to hand out. Many voters are sick of insiders profiting off the system.

Few people thought rookie candidate Will Guzzardi had even a faint chance when he challenged incumbent state Rep. Toni Berrios, Joe’s daughter, in 2012. But Guzzardi came within 125 votes. Two years later, Guzzardi beat her handily after going door to door for months to talk with voters.

“I think we were able to show that the Berrios machine was really a paper tiger, and that they really didn’t have the strength everyone assumed,” Guzzardi told me in an interview last week. “People were really fed up with that brand of politics and wanted something different.”

Through it all, Berrios continued to brush off his critics. In speaking about the operations of the assessor’s office, he sounded a little like Mussolini boasting about the trains: “After one year in that office, I got the tax bills out in time,” he said, estimating this saved local governments millions of dollars in borrowing costs.

But Berrios appears to have gotten the bills out on time because thousands of commercial and industrial properties weren’t being assessed, as my colleagues Jason Grotto and Sandhya Kambhampati found in months of reporting. In short, the assessor’s office wasn’t doing its job.

Kaegi, a financial asset manager, ran for the right office against the right guy at the right time. He depicted his quest as a social cause as much as a political campaign — even as he engaged in the old-school power play of trying to knock a third candidate, Andrea Raila, off the ballot. A state appellate court ruling kept her in the race, but some voters were told their ballots for her wouldn’t count, prompting Raila to call for a new election.

This wouldn’t have happened when the machine was humming.

Fritz Kaegi
(Courtesy of Boca Media Group)

For now, Kaegi is the winner — and Berrios is the clear loser. It remains to be seen if Kaegi will follow through on his vows to clean up and restore confidence in the assessment system. Voters are hopeful, and quite frankly, the bar is low.

Only a couple of the old-school bosses are left. As the machine dies off, the void is often filled by people with the finances and friends to purchase a pathway to office — as we’ve seen with Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Gov. Bruce Rauner and J.B. Pritzker, the Democratic nominee for governor.

Berrios noted the trend when asked about his practice of accepting campaign contributions from lawyers with appeals before his office.

“I am not the governor,” he said. “He can just flip the money out any way he wants to. I need to go out and solicit contributions.”

It was a weak excuse for engaging in pay-to-play politics. But it doesn’t mean Berrios was wrong about some of the new bosses getting rid of the old ones.

A Political Boss Goes Down

Londrigan Wins Dem Nomination For Illinois’ 13th Congressional District

Democrat Betsy Dirksen Londrigan of Springfield has won her party’s nomination for the 13th District Congressional seat currently held by Republican Rodney Davis of Taylorville.
The 13th District covers all or part of 14 different counties across central and southwestern Illinois.
Londrigan defeated four other candidates in the Primary Election: University of Illinois religion professor Jon Ebel of Champaign-Urbana, emergency room doctor David Gill of Bloomington, environmental activist Angel Sides of Springfield, and attorney Erik Jones of Edwardsville. The Associated Press called the race at rought 10 p.m., when Londrigan had 45 percent of the vote with 85 percent of precincts reporting:
This congressional race is Londrigan’s first attempt to win public office.
Londrigan is a development officer with the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, and worked as a fundraiser from 2007 to 2009 for U.S. Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, who announced his endorsement of Londrigan last fall.
Earlier this month, Londrigan shared why she’s running for the 13th Congressional District on The 21st Show: 

Londrigan Wins Dem Nomination For Illinois’ 13th Congressional District