Democratic Chicago Cook County Commissioner Forrest Claypool confirmed Tuesday that he will stage an independent, grass-roots campaign for the county assessor's office.
Backed by U.S. Reps. Mike Quigley and Jesse Jackson Jr. and fellow Commissioner Bridget Gainer, all Chicago Democrats, Claypool said he was "blowing the whistle on the insider culture" by running against Democratic nominee Joseph Berrios, currently a Board of Review commissioner and head of the Cook County Democratic Party.
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Quoting the Better Government Association's description of Berrios as "pay-to-play personified," and accusing him of a cozy relationship with House Speaker Michael Madigan, the state party chairman whose law firm routinely argues cases before Berrios on the Board of Review, Claypool said, "He's in the pocket of the special interests, and that's affecting our pocketbooks."
Claypool accused Berrios of favoritism toward Madigan's commercial clients and suggested it shifted the tax burden from commercial real estate to homeowners.
"He seems pretty flip and destructive toward the Democratic Party," Berrios replied in a tersely worded statement. "He is obviously willing to pull down the entire party for his own self-interest. We will work hard as the Democratic Party for its nominated candidates to win in November for the benefit of all the people in Illinois and Cook County."
Berrios questioned Claypool's decision to leave government for private business, as he is not running for re-election, then to consider runs for County Board president and state lieutenant governor before opting for this independent campaign. Berrios insisted he should have run in the Democratic Primary.
Claypool answered that he supported Ray Figueroa in the assessor's race against Berrios and decided against putting his name in consideration for lieutenant governor because "I could do more good in this role as an assessor."
While not dividing himself from the Democratic Party, Claypool's longtime progressive ally on the County Board, Quigley, endorsed his candidacy and pointed to his record of cutting patronage and taxes as head of the Chicago Park District. Quigley called Claypool "the proven type of reformer Cook County needs."
"The same old machine politics will not do," Jackson said.
Claypool will have to compile 25,000 signatures by June 22 to be placed on the ballot for the Nov. 2 general election. He'll no doubt face strong challenges from Berrios, who chased two potential assessor candidates off the ballot in the Democratic Primary over contested petitions.