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posted: 6/29/2010 12:01 AM

Berrios drops challenge to Claypool's independent run

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Cook County Board of Review Commissioner Joseph Berrios dropped his challenge of ballot petitions filed by county Commissioner Forrest Claypool on Monday, setting up a four-way race for the assessor's office in the general election.

"It would be irresponsible to subject either the public authorities or our opponent to the cost, time and effort of litigation, perhaps all the way to the Illinois Supreme Court," said Berrios spokesman Manuel Galvan. "Instead, the campaign asks Mr. Claypool to set aside the insults and empty rhetoric, and pledge to conduct a spirited, fair and clean campaign. The public deserves nothing less."

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Claypool, running as an independent, called the announcement "a critical victory for taxpayers and a blow to the insiders like Joe Berrios, who have used government to protect the powerful instead of the people."

"We will take our message of reform to the voters of Cook County," Claypool added, "and we will give them a chance, on Nov. 2, to declare their independence."

Now voters will decide between them in November along with Republican candidate Sharon Strobeck-Eckersall of Evanston and Chicago's Robert Grota of the Green Party.

Berrios has had people looking at Claypool's petitions at the county clerk's office since they were filed June 21. Yet, Claypool filed about 90,000 signatures, with 25,000 needed to claim a spot on the ballot. Even after Berrios claimed 53,000 were "suspect" and said 6,000 more were ineligible because of questions about the person circulating the petition, that left plenty for Claypool.

A Chicago Democrat like Berrios, Claypool announced last year he would not seek re-election as County Board commissioner and also rejected another run for County Board president, a race he lost in the primary four years ago even though the victor, incumbent John Stroger, suffered a stroke only days before the election.

After Berrios won the February primary to replace the retiring James Houlihan as assessor, Claypool announced he'd seek the office as an independent, saying that Berrios was "in the pocket of the special interests" and calling him "pay-to-play personified."

Berrios is chairman of the Cook County Democratic Party, while Claypool is aligned with Houlihan on the more independent, progressive wing of the party.

Berrios chided Claypool for not running or even voting in the February primary. Claypool responded that he backed Raymond Figueroa in that race, and that the office is too important to entrust to a party regular like Berrios.

Both Berrios and Claypool blame each other for shifting the county's tax burden from commercial properties to homeowners. Claypool charges that Berrios, on the Board of Review, is overly receptive to commercial assessment appeals filed by firms owned by statewide Democratic leaders House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton. Berrios charges that the so-called 10-25 ordinance is to blame for shifting the tax burden; it was proposed by Houlihan and sponsored by Claypool and went into effect this year, setting assessments at 10 percent of market value for residences and 25 percent of market value for commercial properties.

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