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Marin: Race to watch is Guzzardi-Berrios

Updated: December 4, 2013 6:37AM



Just 125 votes.

That’s all that separated defeat from victory in 2012 when an upstart nobody — Will Guzzardi — challenged an incumbent with a powerhouse last name — State Rep. Toni Berrios — in a faceoff on Chicago’s Northwest Side.

The recount gave the regular Democratic Party fits. Guzzardi snuck up on all of them, including Toni Berrios’ dad, Joe Berrios, whose former seat she now occupies. Dad is not only the county assessor but also the head of the Cook County Democratic Party. It was embarrassing. But a huge sigh of relief could be heard when the incumbent, in a recount, squeaked by.

Now it’s rematch time.

Consider it one more test of the Almighty Mike Madigan, whose other titles include speaker of the Illinois House and chairman of the Illinois Democratic Party.

Madigan, by any other name, is the Godfather. Not just of the Berrios clan but of any candidate who yearns for victory in the kingdom he’s controlled for decades.

Election cycle after election cycle, Madigan smiles his cold smile as challengers foolishly claim that voters are fed up and ready for a New Day.

And then the New Day doesn’t come.

Examples abound. Like when former Cook County commissioner and current CTA boss Forrest Claypool ran as a reformer against Joe Berrios in 2010.

Were voters outraged that Berrios had taken boatloads of campaign contributions from lawyers who appeared before him to reduce their client’s property taxes? (Mike Madigan, by the way, has a tax review law firm.)

Nope.

Were voters furious that Berrios’ relatives (15 of them, according to the Sun-Times’ Dan Mihalopoulos) appear on government payrolls or pension plans earning a million taxpayer bucks a year?

Nope.

Berrios, with Madigan’s help, won. And Madigan, in turn, dumped $300,000 into the last campaign of Berrios’ daughter.

So what about the upcoming face-off in the March 18 primary?

Toni Berrios, 36, has been in office for a decade and has a relatively low profile in the General Assembly, not speaking on the floor often nor being the prime sponsor of many laws passed. Just three this last session. A self-described progressive, she is a dependable vote in the Madigan army. Her residents, she argues, have benefitted from the millions of dollars that she’s brought to her district for education, parks, and social services.

Guzzardi, 26, is a former Huffington Post columnist and communications specialist at the University of Chicago. He has never held elective office. But he has assembled a dedicated, barebones organization of volunteers capable of coming within striking distance of winning just two years ago. Springfield, he argues, is broken and beholden to special interests.

Rep. Berrios, the first woman of Puerto Rican descent in the House, is fluent in Spanish.

Guzzardi speaks Spanish, French and Mandarin.

As for plain English, I asked each to name their political heroes.

Will Guzzardi said, among others, the late Minnesota Sen. Paul Wellstone and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

Toni Berrios answered, “My dad.”

Keep your eye on this race.

Email: cmarin@suntimes.com

Twitter: @CarolMarin



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