Claypool running as independent in assessor race

April 8, 2010 8:30:11 AM PDT
Cook County Commissioner Forest Claypool is throwing his hat into the race for Cook County assessor. Claypool is a Democrat. But, Tuesday, he announced plans to run as an independent candidate in the fall election.

Claypool says his candidacy is about standing up for taxpayers, not for big business or their clout-heavy law firms. Claypool supported Raymond Figueroa in the Democratic primary, but the former judge lost to Joe Berrios. Claypool says he cannot sit back and watch Berrios glide into office.

Claypool's campaign for Cook County assessor was born out of his fear of Berrios becoming the next assessor.

"Joe Berrios represents a clear threat to homeowners and senior citizens across Cook County," said Claypool. "Those of us who care about reform and tax fairness cannot sit by and allow him to take control of this office."

Democrat Claypool is running as an independent. A known reformer who sits on the Cook County Board, Claypool accuses Berrios of insider politics.

For years, Berrios has been a commissioner on the Cook County Board of Review. That is where taxpayers go to appeal their tax bills.

"Berrios has taken millions of campaign money from the law firms that file tax appeals before the very board that he sits on," Claypool said.

Those law firms include Michael Madigan's, the house speaker and chairman of the Illinois Democratic Party, and a strong backer of Berrios. Claypool claims, in return for those campaign contributions, Berrios has given huge tax breaks to businesses those law firms represent. Claypool says homeowners have made up the difference.

Berrios denies any favoritism toward businesses.

"If we find assessors numbers are incorrect, we will correct them no matter who it is," said Berrios.

Berrios says Claypool's independent candidacy shows that he is not a true Democrat. Berrios says, otherwise, Claypool would have run in the primary.

The race also includes Republican Sharon Strobeck-Eckersall. She is the former assessor for Evanston Township. She said she welcomes Claypool into the race.

"It will be beneficial to me because the Democrats are now splitting," Strobeck-Eckersall said.

Little-known Strobeck-Eckersall says she is the only candidate who is an appraiser and has a real estate license.

Claypool must gather 25,000 signatures by June 22 to get on the ballot.

He also must raise money. Claypool said he is confident he can raise enough to be competitive with Berrios' campaign war chest.

Reps. Mike Quigley and Jesse Jackson Jr. have endorsed Claypool.