Governor Rauner calls for Cook County Assessor Joe Berrios to resign

WHEELING, Ill. (WLS) -- Governor Bruce Rauner held a news conference Monday morning to call for the resignation of Cook County Assessor Joseph Berrios, which was sparked by an investigation by the Chicago Tribune and ProPublica Illinois that detailed significant problems with the assessor's office and the way tax appeals are handled.

The report raised questions about how wealthy, politically-connected property owners were able to get their assessments reduced, sometimes significantly below market value. Rauner joins Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Chris Kennedy in calling for Berrios to step down. JB Pritzker and Daniel Biss have declined to call for Berrios to resign, instead saying it should be up to the voters.

Fritz Kaegi is challenging Berrios in the Democratic primary. Berrios is the head of the Cook County Democratic Party, which has endorsed Pritzker. House Speaker Micheal Madigan, the head of the Illinois Democratic Party is tax appeals attorney.

Rauner held the news conference in Wheeling at the home of Michael and Marianne Murphy. The governor accused Berrios of running a rigged system that benefits tax attorneys like the governor's political nemesis, House Speaker Michael Madigan, and wealthy property owners such as his potential opponent for governor, billionaire J.B. Pritzker.

"This system has to change, and it has to start with the resignation of Joe Berrios. Joe has to go. He is a core leader of this rigged, corrupt system. Joe Berrios, Mike Madigan and J.B. Pritzker are the unholy trinity," Rauner said.

Mrs. Murphy said that several years ago they personally appealed the property taxes and were able to get them reduced by $100. She said she does not know enough about the way the assessor's office operates to comment on whether Berrrios should resign.

"So in the last 10 years, our property value, our assessed value has gone down 25 percent and in the last 10 years our property taxes have increased 50 percent," Marianne Murphy said.

Madigan's spokesman suggested that Rauner probably ought not to cast stones noting that Stuart Levine, a political insider convicted in the case of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, had once been a $25,000 per month paid consultant for one of Rauner's private equity firms.

Pritzker's campaign said the governor was just trying to distract from his own political failings.

The assessor's office has disputed allegations in the investigation conducted by the Chicago Tribune and Propublica Illinois and said improvements are being made in the assessment process. But Berrios admits he does take campaign donations from tax appeals attorneys, and will continue to do so as long is it remains legal in Illinois.

A spokesperson for Berrios released a statement Monday morning: "This attack is coming from a governor who just last week complained about being 'not in charge' of the state. Like Donald Trump, Bruce Rauner relies on blatant political stunts in a bid to save his failing administration and re-election bid.
"Wall Street Republicans like Bruce Rauner and Fritz Kaegi have been reckless for the role they played in the financial collapse of our economy while profiting off the backs of working families. Bruce Rauner has single-handled dedicated his tenure to attacking working families, women, and children. He has hijacked our state by preventing working families and children from receiving critical services, among other 'accomplishments.'

"On the other hand, Assessor Berrios has taken charge and focused on improving the assessment system he inherited by making it fair and equitable for every Cook County resident. He has increased the number of outreach events held across the county, made appeals easier, and successfully pushed for an increase in the homeowners and senior exemptions which will put more money back in the hands of homeowners statewide. The Civic Consulting Alliance is currently reviewing the County's property assessment system, and Assessor Berrios plans to implement whatever changes and improvements are recommended to make the system even better.

"It's time for Bruce Rauner to "Shake up Springfield" by doing the people of Illinois a favor -- he should admit that he has failed as governor and resign."

In response, Kaegi's campaign issued the following statement:

"The Berrios campaign has once again issued another obviously false statement. Fritz Kaegi is a lifelong progressive Democrat, and he has been endorsed by Congressional Democrats Robin Kelly, Danny K. Davis and Bill Foster, County Clerk David Orr, Cook County Commissioner Jesus "Chuy" Garcia and many other progressive democratic organizations and local leaders. Suggesting otherwise demonstrates a disregard for the truth, disrespect for the voters of Cook County, and the same lack of honesty and transparency that has plagued Mr. Berrios' office for many years.

"No one has made life worse for taxpayers in Illinois than Bruce Rauner, and no one has done more to worsen economic inequality. They have both done lasting damage to the economic futures of low-income communities and communities of color. They should both be relieved of their posts in the 2018 election, or sooner."
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