Cook County Board of Review Commissioner Joseph Berrios, the Democratic candidate for assessor, charged Wednesday that the Better Government Association was serving as a political front for independent assessor candidate Forrest Claypool, a county-board commissioner.
Berrios said that under Executive Director Andy Shaw, a former WLS-TV Channel 7 political reporter, the BGA had become "a vehicle to fund propaganda campaigns for Claypool."
The BGA - which as a nonprofit agency is forbidden from formally endorsing candidates, Shaw has repeatedly emphasized - joined Chicago magazine in a recent story detailing allegations that Berrios takes abundant campaign contributions from property-tax attorneys arguing assessment appeals before the Board of Review, among other accusations.
"What Joe Berrios is doing is shooting the messenger," Claypool replied. "He doesn't like the fact that a 100-year-old investigative watchdog organization ... has printed the results of its investigation that he abused his office."
Berrios pointed to how the BGA and Claypool shared big donors and suggested that constituted political money laundering.
"Andy Shaw preaches about ending corruption and pay-to-play. Yet he has turned the BGA into a propaganda arm for eccentric millionaires - a group of uber-wealthy Chicago property owners who want tax breaks from Forrest Claypool if he is elected," Berrios said. "At the same time, Mr. Shaw is enriching himself by receiving tax breaks from the current Cook County assessor (James Houlihan)."
Berrios charged that Shaw's Chicago bed-and-breakfast, Windy City Urban Inn, received an unfair assessment reduction on an appeal filed by his wife, Mary, and should have been considered a commercial property.
"Andy Shaw knows how government operates, and he worked the system," Berrios said.
"In our 87 years of fighting waste, fraud and corruption, we always know we've struck a nerve when we become the subject of personal attacks like this," responded Dave Lundy, president of the BGA's board of directors. "Naturally, we are disappointed that Mr. Berrios chose to attack us in this way, drawing in both our donors and Mr. Shaw's wife. We strongly stand behind our executive director and our stories on Mr. Berrios."
Republican Sharon Strobeck-Eckersall and Robert Grota of the Green Party are the other assessor candidates.