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Assessor's race ripe for protest vote


Voters are mad, annoyed, irritated, agitated and outraged.

They are, to put it indelicately, pissed off.

But voter anger is worthless unless converted into a message so strong that the most powerful politician in Illinois, House Speaker Mike Madigan, can't cover his ears and pretend not to hear.

There is a way.

There is one, unequivocal, no-holds-barred protest vote on the November ballot. One contest that is nothing short of a bullhorn blasting how fed up people are with the corrupt, conflict-of-interest-ridden politics of this state.

It's the race between Democrat Joe Berrios and independent Forrest Claypool for the seemingly obscure but immensely powerful position of Cook County assessor.

Madigan hates to lose. He almost never does. And he's fighting hard on two fronts right now to maintain his iron grip on power.

One front is to keep his majority in the Illinois House against one of the strongest Republican challenges we've seen in a while.

The other front is to make sure that Joe Berrios wins as assessor.

He and Madigan, after all, are the perfect storm of self-interest.

Berrios is a lobbyist in Springfield, where Madigan runs the show. And Madigan's private property tax law firm representing wealthy clients looking for big tax breaks appears before the Board of Review, where Berrios helps run the show. And if Berrios wins as assessor, his power over tax bills only increases.

(Note to taxpayers: When those billionaire owners of high-rise buildings in the Loop get a multi-million dollar tax break, you know who has to make up the difference- You in the Bungalow Belt do.)

There is rebellion brewing over this, and not just among voters, but within the Democratic Party itself. And it's not going over well with party leaders. Those leaders, by the way, are named Madigan and Berrios. Madigan chairs the state party. Berrios runs the Cook County party.

Berrios and Madigan think it should be a mortal sin for any Democrat to do anything to embarrass the party. That includes, according to party bylaws, "felony convictions, or actively opposing nominees endorsed by the Cook County Democratic Party."

Only in Illinois would disagreeing with the party be right up there with committing a felony.

Put Evanston Township Democratic Committeeman Jeffrey Schoenberg on the rack then, boys. He and his powerful organization are backing Claypool.

"I had one committeeman suggest to me privately that I step aside temporarily or resign," said Schoenberg. "And my answer was, 'Why the hell should I do that- ' I'm doing exactly what Evanston Democrats want me to do."

It's one thing for a long-established Democrat to rebel against his party. Quite another for a brand-new, untested party candidate to do so. But Jennifer Bishop Jenkins, who is running for Cook County commissioner in the northwest suburbs, has put herself firmly in the Claypool column as well. She knows that may not be the most politic decision, and yet, she says, "Staying silent is not an option." As she knocks on doors, Jenkins says, "People are asking me."

And she, like Schoenberg, supported County Commissioner Claypool when he ran against then-Cook County Board President John Stroger in 2006.

When Stroger was felled by a stroke, his son, Todd, got the nod from those very same Democratic Party committeeman who believe it's as big a sin to buck the bosses as it is to be a convicted felon.

Joe Berrios and Mike Madigan, by the way, enthusiastically endorsed Todd Stroger. We all know how that turned out.

The race for Cook County assessor is the clearest, loudest protest vote on the whole November ballot.

Send a message.

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