Joe Berrios is chairman of the Cook County Democratic Party, and he has its official endorsement in his race for a new term as county assessor. But dozens of the party’s ward and township committeemen appear to be abandoning him—or even working for competitor Fritz Kaegi.
In calls and emails, officials throughout the county confirm that regardless of the party organization’s action, they’re leaving Berrios off of sample ballots and palm cards that precinct captains are distributing to voters in advance of the March 20 primary. And though Berrios retains the support of some of the county’s biggest-hitting committeemen, the exodus is occurring everywhere, in both Chicago proper and the suburbs, and among whites, Latinos and African-Americans.
“The professional politicians are hearing from their voters and are done with him,” bragged Kaegi in a phone interview—apparently with cause.
An exact count of who’s with who is impossible to determine, and may not be clear until after the election. But here’s what I’m hearing, and little of it is good for the embattled incumbent.
The trend is most evident along the North Side lakefront, which long has been friendly to independents who challenge the machine.
Kaegi is the recommended candidate in sample ballots distributed in the 42nd, 43rd, 48th and 49th wards. “That’s who the members of our organization voted to endorse,” says Ald. Joe Moore, 49th, who also is committeeman. “I think they made the right decision.”
The assessor’s slot is empty in recommendations in two other lakefront wards, the 44th and 46th.
“I’m a loyal Democrat. I historically have supported Joe Berrios,” says Tom Tunney, 44th Ward alderman and committeeman. But this time, “I think he’s vulnerable,” Tunney adds. “I think he’s going to have a tough time in our ward. The best I can do is stay out of it.”
But while the anti-Berrios trend is most clear on the North Side, it exists everywhere.
For instance, South Side Ald. Pat Dowell, committeewoman of the 3rd Ward, says, “I want people to decide who they want to support.”
Other predominantly African-American wards that either are leaving Berrios off their ballots or actively working for Kaegi include the 2nd, 9th, 29th and 37th.
In heavily Hispanic areas, there also is a notable movement away from Berrios, even though he is Hispanic.
“Being Latino gets you in the front door, but you also have to have good policies,” says Ald. Rick Munoz, 22nd, whose organization is backing Kaegi, along with Danny Solis’ 25th Ward.
On the Northwest Side, 32nd Ward Ald. and Committeeman Scott Waguespack is with Kaegi for “a long list of reasons.” So are the 33rd, 39th and 45th ward organizations, according to party sources.
Berrios’ strongest support is on the Southwest Side, where officials such as Committeemen John Daley, 11th, Mike Madigan, 13th, and Ed Burke, 14th, by all indications are sticking with him. All have solid organizations that can produce a vote. But even there, splits have occurred, with state Rep. Mike Zalewski not doing a palm card at all, even though his home 23rd Ward Regular Democratic Organization is with Berrios.
In the 30 suburban townships, the defection list is considerable—and growing. According to Kaegi, sample ballots in Niles, Evanston, Oak Park, New Trier, Northfield and Elk Grove Townships are with him or have taken a pass on the race.
Berrios’ spokeswoman declined to comment.
Berrios has faced charges that his method of assessment tends to favor wealthier, white areas to the disadvantage of poorer, minority neighborhoods. He says that’s not true.