I have been wondering how long it would be before Democratic county assessor nominee Joe Berrios would turn himself into Josè.
Not that he literally has gone through the process of changing his name. But the candidate who seems to be the focus this election cycle of all the hostility by good-government types toward establishment politicians seems to be evolving himself into the Latino candidate – in hopes that the significant Latino population of Chicago will provide him with a solid base that will result in his election come Nov. 2.
BERRIOS ON MONDAY is planning an event by which he will claim the endorsements of just about every significant Latino politico – including Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., state Sen. Iris Martinez, D-Chicago (the first Latina to serve in the Illinois Senate) and 31st Ward Alderman Ray Suarez.
They will be gathering at the politically old-school Hotel Allegro (which I still think of as the Bismarck Hotel) to try to create the impression that Latinos in Chicago (who comprise just over one-quarter of the city’s population) want “one of our own” running the office that handles tax collection for Cook County.
I don’t know if this tactic will work.
It could well be that a significant share of Latinos also have problems with the notion of yet another political hack being elected assessor. And it’s not like any of the Berrios opponents – not even the independent candidacy of Forrest Claypool – has any significant appeal to Latinos.
BUT WHAT I have noticed about the Berrios campaign in this election cycle is that it has barely touched on his ethnic background. At least not until now, when it looks like Claypool may make some dents in the voter turnout.
That shouldn’t be a surprise. Berrios, after all, is the chairman of the Cook County Democratic Party. As in the whole party. Theoretically, people should be coming to him seeking help getting themselves elected to various political posts.
Instead, it is Berrios himself who needs help, and he is turning to his ethnic roots (he’s of Puerto Rican background) to try to get it. Perhaps he figures that Latinos won’t get caught up in “goo-goo” talk. Which is what the Berrios opposition is about.
These activists realize they’re not about to take down all of government in Chicago and Cook County (that Tea Party-type tripe doesn’t play here, where people have a little more sense than those rural communities where such talk might get taken seriously).
SO, THEY’RE FOCUSING on one candidate – which seems to be Berrios. Dump the party chairman for the political post that he wants, and it will be a significant symbolic victory for the cause of good government.
Now if this reads like I’m trying to defend Berrios, I’m not. I will be the first to concede that the county Board of Review, which oversees tax appeals, is as closed a panel as can exist within our local government.
Berrios’ presence within local government is perfect proof that not every ethnic or racial minority who holds office is some sort of radical. Berrios during his 22 years on the board has been as establishment as they come.
That is evidenced by the fact that he also works as a lobbyist to the Illinois Legislature in Springfield, and he has his close ties with the Democratic legislative leaders – both of whom also work as attorneys who specialize in tax law and whose clients often have cases that must appear before the Board of Review.
IF IT SOUNDS like an incestuous relationship, it probably is. Although I doubt that Berrios is the worst practitioner of “Chicago-style” politics.
What inspires the people who want to dump Berrios largely is his challenger. Officially, he has a Republican and a Green to run against – neither of which is worth mentioning by name. If they were the only factors, then Berrios would be a shoo-in for re-election.
Yet we’re talking about Claypool, who caught the imagination of good-government types as a so-called “reformer” when he tried running in 2006 against John Stroger for county board President. Stroger won, only to turn the nomination over to son Todd when it became apparent that father Stroger’s health was declining.
Which is why for four years, all those people who never got over their distaste for Todd Stroger have been thinking of Claypool as the guy who “should have been” county board president. Which means those people are eager to vote him into some political post. If they can take down a political veteran like Berrios in the process, I’m sure they will be very happy on Nov. 3.
I’M NOT ATTACKING Claypool. I understand that as a county board member he has supported some good-government measures. Yet I have a hard time thinking of Claypool as a real live goo-goo, mainly because he has been so allied throughout the years with Richard M. Daley (a mayoral chief of staff and Daley’s pick to run the Chicago Park District, among other ties).
Which is why when Berrios has started making claims that he thinks his ethnicity factors into peoples’ distaste for him, I’m not going to totally dismiss it. Although I figure it is merely one of many factors, and not the sole reason people will vote against him.
I’m not sure how this election will turn out, because I have noticed that many of the establishment candidates in Cook County are making a point of endorsing Berrios (including county board President nominee Toni Preckwinkle, who said that as county Dem chairman, the party has been supportive of the political aspirations of all people – not just white guys).
But I’m presuming that since Berrios himself plans to reach out to the Latino voter bloc, he sees something of a gap in support – one that he intends to plug.