Mud continues to fly in the Republican primary race for the District 1 seat on the Cook County Board of Review.
A recent salvo came from Sean Morrison, a Palos Park business owner who is the challenger in the race. Morrison sent out a mailing to district voters that pictures his opponent, Wheeling resident and incumbent Dan Patlak, next to recently indicted Cook County Commissioner William Beavers.
"Once incumbent county commissioner indicted, while another is under investigation," the flier states. The mailing claims Patlak has been "caught" breaking electioneering laws and "shaking down" tax attorneys for campaign contributions.
"I stand by the flier and everything in it," Morrison said Thursday. "It's all based on fact. I think Cook County voters need to know what's going on in the board of review."
Patlak said Thursday that the flier amounts to "character assassination." He disputed the notion that he's under investigation and said that all campaign contributions he receives are obtained legally and fully reported as required by law.
"Sadly, it's what I've come to expect from my opponent, though I will say this represents a new low," Patlak said.
The three-member board of review is the agency that reviews property tax assessment appeals from businesses and homeowners. Patlak and Morrison will square off in the March 20 Republican primary for the District 1 seat, which covers a large swath of the county from its northwest corner down to the Southwest suburbs.
Morrison bases his claim that Patlak is under investigation on the fact that he filed an electioneering complaint against Patlak with Cook County authorities, including the Cook County state's attorney's office.
The complaint states that Patlak sought political donations during a taxpayer-funded county event, which is illegal. Patlak says the event was not an official county gathering, though it was mistakenly advertised as such early on.
As is common practice, a spokeswoman for the Cook County state's attorney refused to confirm or deny that an investigation of Patlak is taking place.
"My opponent has offered no real evidence that there's any investigation of me going on," Patlak said. "But he keeps making that claim. I'm fairly certain there's no investigation, but because the agencies won't say one way or another, he can just keep making that claim."
Morrison defended his use of the phrase "shaking down" in the mailing. He said he believes that tax attorneys who appear before the board of review feel "intimidated" to contribute to Patlak's campaign. His mailing claims that Patlak has received more than $400,000 in contributions from attorneys.
"I think it's a quid-pro-quo thing," Morrison said. "The attorneys give in the hopes that their clients will get tax reductions. What else would you call that, but a shakedown?"
Patlak said that Morrison has never produced evidence of shakedown activities.
Patlak estimated that he's raised roughly $200,000 from attorneys for the current race. He pointed out that all his contributions are obtained legally and in typical fashion.
"I invite people, some of them attorneys, to my fundraisers," he said. "Some attend, some don't. And whatever I receive, I have to report to the state. Anyone can see exactly who's contributing, and how much."
Morrison said the board's Freedom of Information Act process makes it hard to compare campaign donations from specific attorneys with tax reductions granted, but he said he's heard complaints about the process from county residents.
Morrison, who's largely funding his campaign himself, said he believes attorney contributions should be limited to $250 each.
Patlak said voters know where his money comes from, but they don't know where Morrison's wealth comes from. "I don't think it should leave it only to the wealthy to run for public office," he said.
Morrison's mailing also criticizes Patlak for "political hiring," pointing out that Patlak added Ken Jochum, the manager of Patlak's last campaign, to his staff on the board of review. Jochum, who has also managed Patlak's current campaign, is Patlak's chief deputy at the board, a job that pays $127,000 a year.
"That's just classic Cook County corruption right there," Morrison said.
Patlak said that Jochum never does political work while on county time. He added that Jochum has an MBA and is eminently qualified to oversee Patlak's staff of analysts.
"I'm grateful to have someone as skilled as Ken on my staff," he said, "especially since he could probably make significantly more money elsewhere."
Patlak criticized the overall tone and approach of Morrison's mailing. He said it was wrong to visually link him with a recently indicted politician who serves on a completely different board. And he objected to the mailing's repeated claims that he'd been "caught."
Morrison said he paired Patlak's image with Beavers' to underscore what he considers to be a corrupt culture in Cook County government. He said the approach was necessary to counteract increasingly negative attacks directed at him by Patlak.