Candidates battle for Cook Co. assessor seat

January 18, 2010 4:38:54 PM PST
The race for Cook County assessor does not get the same attention as the race governor or the U.S. Senate. But that office handles property assessments, and that makes it a very important job.Three Democrats are competing for the job, in addition to one Republican and a Green Party candidate.

The Cook County assessor is responsible for setting the value residents' homes, which determines their property tax bills.

The Democrats in the race are not new to politics.

For anyone living in Cook County, Joe Berrios, Raymond Figueroa and Robert Shaw want to determine the value of your home. All say they are running to help the taxpayers.

"Most taxpayers want to be heard so that the system can understand why they feel their taxes are high," said Joseph Berrios.

"We need to have that office that is a bullly pulpit to fight for the people of Cook County," Figueroa said.

"We intend to put a blue ribbon committee together for the purpose of coming up with another way to assess and raise money for schools," Robert Shaw said.

All three candidates are familiar faces in Cook County politics and are familiar to each other. Berrios and Figueroa go back to the council wars in the 1980s where Figueroa supported Harold Washington and Berrios sided with Ald. Ed Vrdolyak.

Shaw is the twin brother of the late mayor of Dolton. Shaw and Berrios served together for years on the Cook County Board of Review. It is the tiny agency where taxpayers try to get their tax bills lowered.

It's an office that Figueroa and Shaw say Berrios uses to give big businesses tax breaks.

"He has a history of providing assistance to the poweful downtown law firms," said Shaw.

"It is outrageous. You have Mr. Berrios receiving contributions from lawyers on the Board of Appeals that practice in front of him," said Figueroa.

"No one is going to get a cut, I don't care who it is," said Berrios.

But Shaw and Figueroa claim big corporate clients of House Speaker Michael Madigan's law firm have gotten a cut. Berrios is the chairman of the Cook County Democratic Party and a Springfield lobbyist.

Berrios says if he becomes Cook County assessor, he will do everything by the book.

"It's new ways, the new ways you have to sell yourself and be honest," Berrios said.

The Cook County assessor seat is wide open because James Houlihan is retiring after a third term. He strongly supports extending a homeowners' 7 percent assessment cap. All three Democratic candidates say they would like to extend the cap, as well.

The only Republican in the race is Evanston Township Assessor Sharon Strobeck-Eckersall. Robert Grota is the Green Party candidate.