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

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

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

Kay will face Stuart again

Kay will face Stuart again

Jones concedes in Congressional race
Published 9:49 pm, Tuesday, March 20, 2018

EDWARDSVILLE  – Glen Carbon native Dwight Kay, a familiar face to area voters, defeated Wendy Erhart in the Republican primary election on Tuesday.

Kay had run unsuccessfully for the General Assembly in 2008 but won the seat two years later. He then lost the seat to Katie Stuart, a Democrat, in 2016.

Kay will face Stuart in the general election in November for the 112th Districts seat.

Another local candidate, Bob Daiber, ended his bid for governor on the Democratic ticket. The Associated Press called the race for JB Pritzker shortly after 9 p.m.

“We ran an honorable race. We ran it as honorably as we could,” Daiber said several minutes later during a phone interview from Donzo’s Bar & Grill in Wood River. “The results were not what we would have thought but we have to face reality. I have no regrets in what I did, and I am proud of the campaign I ran.”

Daiber was the only downstate candidate in a field that included Chris Kennedy, Daniel Biss, Tio Hardiman and Robert Marshall.

On the Democratic side, Betsy Dirksen Londrigan led Erik Jones by 3,256 to 2,539, with 76 of 82 precincts in the 13th Congressional District race. The winner will face Rodney Davis for the seat in Washington..

“I got into this race because the deck is stacked against working families right now. And while I will not be going to the general election, this fight must continue – there is simply too much at stake for Illinois families. I am honored and humbled by the support I received and the enthusiasm I was shown on the campaign trail,” Jones said in a statement released just before 10 p.m. Tuesday. “Tonight, I’m asking my supporters keep up the fight and remain focused on defeating Rodney Davis this fall – It’s the only way to finally make Illinois families a priority again in Washington.”

In the GOP race for state house District 108, Charlie Meier led Don Moore, 1,067 to 732 with 10 precincts reporting.

In Madison County Board District 11 in Edwardsville, Dalton Gray held a slim lead over Bill Markowitz, 401 to 394, with 4 of 6 precincts having reported. The seat had been held by Brad Maxwell who decided not to run for re-election.

The Republican race for governor was also too close to call. Gov. Bruce Rauner pulled down 8,760 votes in Madison County to 7,838 for Jeanne Ives. At press time, 192 out of 225 had reported.

On the Democratic side, Pat Quinn appeared to be the winner in the race for Attorney General.

With 192 out of 225 precincts reporting in Madison County, Quinn had 8,410 votes to 3,655 for his nearest rival, Kwame Raoul. Others in the race included Renato Mariotti, Scott Drury, Nancy Rotering, Jesse Ruiz, Sharon Fairley and Aaron Goldstein.

Kay will face Stuart again

Ives gives Rauner run for his money in Republican gov race

It wasn’t expected to be this hard.

For months, Gov. Bruce Rauner had shown little concern about state Rep. Jeanne Ives and her campaign to unseat him for the Republican nomination for governor. He cast the Wheaton Republican as part of a set of “fringe elements,” instead looking forward to a general-election matchup with Democrat J.B. Pritzker.

Two hours after the polls closed Tuesday, though, his run for a second term — and his effort to avoid becoming the first sitting Illinois governor in 42 years to lose his party’s nomination — was anything but guaranteed.

“We’re thrilled,” Ives said at her election night party in Glen Ellyn, as she stood about three percentage points behind Rauner. “This is an insurgent campaign that started less than five months ago and to come this close to taking out the worst Republican governor in America is phenomenal.”

As of 9:30 p.m. with about three-quarters of precincts reporting, Rauner led with 51.6 percent of the vote over Ives’ 48.4 percent.

While Rauner had yet to speak at his South Loop gathering, Ives mingled among an upbeat crowd, with a four-piece jazz band getting its biggest applause after the lead singer changed the lyrics to Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode” to “Jeanne B. Goode.”

Gov. Bruce Rauner at the 2018 Chicago St. Patrick’s Day Parade, Saturday, March 17th, 2018. File Photo. | James Foster/For the Sun-Times

Even if she lost Tuesday, Ives said Republican voters in Illinois would still rally around Rauner to defeat Pritzker in the November general election.

“Of course they can. Absolutely,” said Ives, who is vying to become just the third woman in Illinois history to nab a major-party nomination for governor, and the first since Republican Judy Baar Topinka in 2006. “It is time for a revolution in the State of Illinois. None of the Democrats will lead that.”

Ives’ launched her campaign last fall, feeding off the conservative backlash against Rauner’s decision to sign legislation expanding public funding of abortion, a move that alienated much of his Republican base as the “ultimate betrayal.”

Coupled with Rauner’s signing of bills that limits local law enforcement cooperation with federal immigration authorities, and that allowed transgender people to change the sex noted on their birth certificates, Ives’ supporters lambasted Rauner as a “RINO” — Republican in name only.

“He has disappointed us and betrayed us on various issues,” Ives supporter Cynthia Hopkins said at the party at Abbington Banquet Hall.

Ives zeroed in on those issues in her first televised campaign ad in early February, a minute-long spot featuring a man in a woman’s dress thanking Rauner for “letting me use the girls’ bathroom.” The ad was slammed from both sides of the aisle as offensive, but it earned Ives nationwide notoriety as a right-wing presence.

Rauner, who became a multi-millionaire as a venture capitalist, jumped into politics in 2014 billing himself as a reformer of corrupt Illinois politics, but change was hard to come by for Rauner Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, culminating in a two-year budget impasse.

Still, with a campaign war chest dwarfing Ives’, Rauner’s confidence was backed up by a Feb. 28 poll showing him with a 20-percentage-point lead. But a week out of the primary, Ives’ campaign said their internal polling put her within 7 percentage points on March 13.

That was the same day Rauner vetoed a bill that would have required gun dealers in Illinois to go through a state licensing process — a move deemed by Ives and other Rauner rivals as a political maneuver to bolster his conservative credibility. Rauner denied any political timing.

Rauner fought battles on two fronts in the week leading up to the primary as the Democratic Governors Association put out a TV ad calling Ives “just too conservative” for Illinois — widely viewed as a backdoor booster for Ives.

The partisan meddling prompted the Rauner campaign to pump money into ads attacking Ives, and they also made a last-minute push on Monday for conservative votes by enlisting right-wing firebrand Newt Gingrich — a noted cheerleader for President Donald Trump — to record a robo-call urging Republican voters to turn out for Rauner.

Ives gives Rauner run for his money in Republican gov race

Embattled incumbent Joe Berrios concedes to Fritz Kaegi in Cook County assessor’s race

Beleaguered incumbent Joseph Berrios conceded Tuesday night to challenger Fritz Kaegi in the primary contest for Cook County assessor as early vote totals showed him far behind — but a third candidate, Andrea Raila, went to court to void the election count after inaccurate information about her candidacy was posted in some polling places.

If Kaegi’s victory stands, the outcome would send political shock waves across the state, given that Berrios also is head of the Cook County Democratic Party and a close ally of state party chairman Michael Madigan. Kaegi campaigned as a progressive with backing from politicians that have long fought the party establishment.

With nearly 70 percent of the vote counted, Kaegi had 45 percent of the vote to Berrios’ 34 percent, according to unofficial election night results. Raila had 21 percent.

Berrios conceded the race outside Lazo’s Tacos on the Northwest Side, where he was gathering for an election night gathering with supporters. “The election was done,” Berrios said, telling the crowd he called Kaegi to congratulate him. “The results are the results.”

Kaegi was expected later in the evening at an election night party at Apollo’s 2000 on the Southwest Side, where supporters of congressional candidate Jesus “Chuy” Garcia also were gathering. “Joe called to concede,” Kaegi said in a brief telephone interview. “He was very gracious, and I thanked him for his service.”

Raila’s candidacy was in flux during the campaign season as lawyers argued over her petition signatures, and just last Wednesday an appellate court restored her as a qualified candidate. But on Tuesday, some election judges posted signs incorrectly informing city voters that ballots cast for Raila would not count.

She called the postings a “travesty,” demanded an investigation and filed a lawsuit to void Tuesday’s election, stop the vote counting and order a special election.

The momentum for Kaegi, a mutual fund asset manager from Oak Park, was built on his pledge to make the property tax assessment system fairer. That theme was bolstered by “The Tax Divide,” a series by the Chicago Tribune and ProPublica Illinois that found assessments under Berrios shifted an outsized portion of the property tax burden from the wealthy to the poor, with minority communities being hit particularly hard.

Kaegi also railed against the “Democratic Machine,” or at least what remains of it, pointing to Berrios’ history of taking campaign contributions from property tax appeal attorneys who seek reductions in assessments from both his office and the Board of Review where he was previously a commissioner. He also pointed to Berrios’ hiring of relatives and friends — personnel decisions that ran afoul of county ethics codes and a legal ban on most politically based personnel decisions.

A defeat of Berrios would be a loss not only for Madigan but for County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, who stood by Berrios as other African-American politicians defected in the wake of “The Tax Divide” and a county-commissioned study that backed up its findings. And it would be a victory for independent Democratic politicians like county Clerk David Orr, who endorsed Kaegi.

The race for assessor, typically a quiet, down-ballot affair, had a much higher profile this year because it became a test of the ability of progressives in the wake of U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign to take on establishment Democrats and win.

It also became a topic in the race for governor, with candidate Chris Kennedy railing against the property tax system under Berrios and his alliance with Madigan. The Democratic Party endorsed J.B. Pritzker in the top-of-the-ticket primary.

The assessor’s race also was filled with twists and turns that, during the last week, turned a one-on-one race framed up as a battle between progressives and the establishment into a three-way contest that added the idea of a woman campaigning for a post that for decades has been held only by men.

In addition to promoting herself as the only woman in the race, Raila has portrayed herself as an “outsider” taking on “the machine and so-called progressives.”

The county Electoral Board had disqualified Raila as a candidate for an alleged “pattern of fraud” in collecting petition signatures. That ruling was upheld by a judge, who sanctioned a decision by election officials to notify all early voters that votes for Raila would not be counted.

But after nearly 90,000 early votes were cast, and tens of thousands of mail-in and overseas ballots were sent out with notifications that Raila votes would not be counted, an appellate court last Wednesday overturned the judge’s decision. And, making matters more complicated, there were reports that the notices were still up or being handed to voters Tuesday in some city polling places.

Election officials acknowledged the problem, saying some election judges had been given conflicting instructions. Chicago Board of Election Commissioners spokesman James Allen said he didn’t think it was a “widespread problem.” But Raila election attorney Frank Avila Jr. described the postings as “endemic” and went to court late Tuesday to ask for a special election that would be equivalent to a do-over in the race.

There’s no doubt that another election would be costly, after millions of dollars have already been invested in the race.

Kaegi has put $1.55 million of his own money into his campaign fund, and raised another $440,000. Two campaign committees controlled by Berrios have pulled in nearly $878,000 since Jan. 1, after starting the year with more than $1.4 million. Raila has raised about $312,000, with $286,000 coming out of her own pocket.

The three candidates in the high-stakes race presented a study in contrasts, particularly when it came to Berrios and Kaegi.

Berrios, 66, grew up in Cabrini Green and Humboldt Park. He started working for the 31st Ward Democratic Organization when he was still in high school. In 1982, he was the first Hispanic person elected to the Illinois House. Six years later, he was elected as a Board of Review commissioner — a position he held until 2010, when he was first elected assessor.

Kaegi, 46, is the product of a progressive Hyde Park upbringing and set aside a lucrative investment job to make his first run for office. He told the Tribune that after volunteering in Democratic politics, he decided to move off the sidelines, picking the office of assessor because he thought his skill set as an asset manager was right for the office.

Raila, 57, a Chicago native, has worked for decades inside and outside the property tax appeals system, starting in the 1980s as an appeals case analyst for then-Board of (Tax) Appeals Commissioner Pat Quinn. She now runs a property tax consulting business, helping homeowners and small businesses appeal their assessments.

Kaegi and Raila both have pledged to fix the assessment system and not take campaign contributions from anyone involved in the appeals business.

In the end, the race will affect whether the problems identified by “The Tax Divide” and confirmed by the county study get fixed — and whether the county Democratic Party in its current form can withstand the nationwide and local push to move the party further to the left.

Juan Perez Jr. of the Tribune contributed.

Twitter @ReporterHal

Embattled incumbent Joe Berrios concedes to Fritz Kaegi in Cook County assessor’s race