February 21, 2018



Let's do a hypothetical. Joe Berrios is the Cook County Democratic chairman. Berrios is seeking re-nomination and re-election as county assessor in 2018. During the period from 2016 to 2017, Berrios raised a total of $633,798 for re-election, and had $1,413,623 on-hand in his county and 31st Ward campaign accounts as of Dec. 31, which means he must be doing a really good. That's definitely debatable, which is why we have elections.

County Cook board president Toni Preckwinkle wants to be county Democratic chairman. To win the March 20 primary, Berrios needs Preckwinkle to deliver to him a very large South Side Chicago black vote, like about two-thirds. If Berrios loses to candidate Fritz Kaegi for assessor, he's likely finished as party leader. And if Berrios is out, Preckwinkle, currently the county vice-chairman, is in.

So here's a really tough question: What does Preckwinkle do, or not do, for Berrios?

Let's do another hypothetical: Preckwinkle campaigned in 2010 to repeal Todd Stroger's one percent sales tax increase, which she and the board repealed but then reinstated. Preckwinkle also imposed a one cent-per-ounce soda tax, which has since been repealed. The soda tax proved widely unpopular and Preckwinkle herself said publicly that she was taking a beating in the media. So why would or should voters trust her? Or re-elect her?

According to Bob Fioretti, the former alderman who is opposing her on March 20, the contest is a statistical dead heat. His latest tracking poll, he said, shows Preckwinkle up 37 to 38 percent. For a two-term incumbent, those are horrific numbers. So here's another really tough question: What happens if both Berrios and Preckwinkle get bounced?

"I'm amazed at how much hostility there is toward her (Preckwinkle)," Fioretti said. The only way they - meaning Berrios and Preckwinkle - can win, he said, is by "massive vote suppression." If the voter turnout is very low, like about 30 percent, and if the Democratic organization spreads around enough money to get their controlled voters to the polls, then Preckwinkle and Berrios could win.

How about a final hypothetical? Preckwinkle and Berrios's chances of winning on March 20 are starting to look grim, almost aking to a certain World War II-era acronym that ends with "beyond all repair." There is nothing they can do, say, promise or concoct that can rehabilitate their credibility, and it looks like the abyss is waiting.

With the primary just a month away, and early-voting set to commence, here's a snapshot of key contests, which are reaching the proverbial tipping point:

ASSESSOR: For weeks, months and years Berrios has been pummeled in the media for his office's operations, which include hiring kin and granting assessed valuation reductions to the highest-valued properties. The coup de grace may be the recent report of the Civic Consulting Alliance, requested by Preckwinkle and Berrios. One of its finding was that the current system causes a "wealth transfer from owners of lower-value homes to those of higher-value homes," concluding that there is a "24 percent lower effective tax rate" difference meaning the percentage of taxes paid relative to assessed value, on high-value versus low-value homes. Berrios was quick to respond, saying that he has "made a commitment to change whatever needs to be changed."

Berrios has been assessor since 2010, and before that a Board of Review commissioner, first elected in 1988. His job, in both posts, involved reducing property taxes - by appeals to the assessor direct, or by an appeal to the Board of Review of the assessor's valuation. As every taxing authority in the city and county gets some of its annual funding from property taxes, and it is a set aggregate amount, a reduction on one property means a commensurate increase on other properties.

The primary has narrowed down to Berrios and Fritz Kaegi, an Oak Park financial analyst with no prior political experience, but who has some money and is plugged into the "progressive" political network. Apparently off the ballot is Andrea Raila, who was removed from the ballot by the county electoral board on Feb. 15 due to a "pattern of fraud" in her nominating petitions, as to both circulators and notaries. She is appealing. Recent polls, which are suspect, had Kaegi up 44 to 27 percent in a two-person race, with 29 percent undecided, and another had Kaegi up 32 to 28 percent, with 21 percent for Raila and 18 percent undecided. Any incumbent who can't crack 30 percent is already dead on arrival.

"The (Democratic) party cannot afford to lose that office," said Alderman Nick Sposato (38th), referring to the assessor's post. It just generates too much money in campaign donations, both for the incumbent and the party, he said.

Preckwinkle, elected in 2010, has publicly said that the problems with the assessment process date back 40 years - like when Democrats P.J. Cullerton, Tom Tully, Tom Hynes and Jim Houlihan were in charge. The last Republican county assessor was elected in the 1920s. And the last Republican county board president was elected in 1966.

In 2010, when both Berrios and Preckwinkle were seeking their current office, turnout in the Democratic primary was 531,000, and Preckwinkle won 261,435-122,957-75,431-70,246 in a four-candidate race, and Berrios won 184,629-156,982-127,330 in a three-candidate race. 2018's turnout will probably be down somewhat from 2010, but the dynamics have changed. 2010 was a "choice" primary, where voters picked among a cluster of non-repugnant candidates, and Berrios won with 39.2 percent and Preckwinkle with 50 percent. 2018 will be a referendum election: Berrios versus Non-Berrios (Kaegi) and Preckwinkle versus Non-Preckwinkle (Fioretti). The "nons" will prevail.

Sposato said that he thinks that Berrios' Hispanic supporters are dwindling, particularly among South Side Mexican-Americans. "He has to win big among blacks and whites," he said. That's not going to happen. Berrios will be no Lazarus. The outlook: Kaegi wins big.

COUNTY BOARD PRESIDENT: The presumption is that Fioretti, a two-term alderman, is a fringe candidate, but the reality is that he is well-positioned to win. She is a "phony reformer," said Fioretti of Preckwinkle, and voters have come to that conclusion.

"She's joined at the hip with Berrios. They are the problem," said Fioretti, "and voters know it."
Fioretti, who ran for mayor in 2015, spends a lot of time campaigning in the black community, especially among black churches. That is Preckwinkle's base: Middle-aged and older black women. If that base cracks, Preckwinkle is history. The outlook: Fioretti wins.

GOVERNOR: J.B. Pritzker appears to have weathered the storm relative to his wiretapped comments to then-Governor Rod Blagojevich concerning his potential 2008 senatorial appointment. Former Senate President Emil Jones said Pritzker didn't like "uppity" blacks. But Pritzker has money, and that solves all issues.

"You have no idea of the level of unemployment among blacks," said Joe Ziegler, a black South Side politician and insurance agent who ran for alderman in the 21st Ward in 2015. "They," meaning black committeemen, "want his money" to hire precinct workers. Fioretti concurs with that assessment. "The number of foreclosures among middle-class blacks is astounding," he said. The black community "is really hurting."

Without question, the campaign of Dan Biss has been the most effective, simply because he has differentiated himself from his mega-wealthy opponents, meaning billionaire Pritzker and millionaire Chris Kennedy and, ultimately, Governor Bruce Rauner. Biss, an Evanston state senator, who just dumped $800.00 into media buys on Feb. 16, and has had TV ads blaring that he is the "middle class" candidate.

Here's a guy who lives in Evanston, has a degree from Harvard and a Ph.D. from M.I.T, and taught mathematics at the University of Chicago. That's not the kind of guy you see at the neighborhood pub. But, as they say, "There's a sucker born every minute."

The outlook: Given Pritzker's money, he is favored to win in a low turnout, but Ziegler notes that Kennedy has "a lot of support" in the black community, plus Biss is generating some traction among white voters. Kennedy, as an outsider, can win, but Pritzker is still the favorite.

ATTORNEY GENERAL: Kwame Raoul was supposed to be Illinois' next Barack Obama, having been appointed to Obama's state senate seat in 2004. But his campaign to replace Lisa Madigan is tanking, and that is because serial candidate Pat Quinn, the former governor, is on the ballot, and is in first-position. Quinn needs a job, as always. And the AG's job, held by Madigan since 2002, is available. There are three other candidates on the ballot in addition to Quinn and Raoul: Nancy Rotering, Scott Drury and Renato Mariotti. Raoul is the only black candidate, but Quinn is like a comfortable shoe. He's been around so long, has run statewide so many times, and has such a recognizable name that he's in a no-lose situation. "There is no great enthusiasm" among blacks for Raoul, said Ziegler. The outlook: Quinn wins easily.

Send an e-mail to russ@russstew art.com or visit his Web site at www.russstewart.com.