Will Editorial Writers Still Swoon?

Bone marrow at Longman & Eagle
Toni Preckwinkle poses with Joseph Berrios at the 2009 Puerto Rican Day Parade
Toni Preckwinkle, almost certainly the next President of the Cook County Board, is backing Democrat Joseph Berrios—lobbyist, head of the County Democratic Party, toady of House Speaker and state Democratic Party chief Mike Madigan—for assessor.

When I read of Preckwinkle’s preference for Berrios over reformer Forrest Claypool (in Stella Foster’s Sun-Times column), I was surprised. Silly me. I must have consumed too many orgasmic editorials portraying Preckwinkle, 4th Ward Alderman, as the second coming of Adlai Stevenson and Paul Simon. Then again, compared to her primary opponents—Todd Stroger and Dorothy Brown—Preckwinkle is. 

After she crushed them in February’s primary, the Sun-Times gushed, “…real reform may be coming to Cook County.” The Tribune declared that Preckwinkle’s nomination “repudiates the party bosses.” (The Sun-Times story is no longer available.)

Take a deep breath. Preckwinkle, 63, seems way too smart to believe that Berrios—a former member of the Illinois House, where he learned strict subservience to Madigan—would be a better assessor than Cook County Commissioner Forrest Claypool, 52, who announced earlier this month that he is running as an independent. (Claypool is not quite as pure as the editorial writers depict him; after all, he did serve two terms as Mayor Daley’s chief of staff.)

With her studious visage, her residence in Hyde Park, and her two degrees from the University of Chicago, Preckwinkle appears the very image of the good-government candidate. That’s true, but this is Chicago. Madigan runs things here, and Preckwinkle, elected alderman in ’91 and a Democratic committeeman in ‘92, is, as she sternly lectured me in a brief telephone interview, a good Democrat. “I am a Democrat. I work for Democrats. I believe in the Democratic Party.” She chastised Claypool for skipping the Democratic primary and then declaring as an independent. (Claypool has explained that he assumed retired judge and former alderman, Raymond Figueroa, would beat Berrios.)  

Claypool was traveling Thursday. Tom Bowen, his campaign manager, said in an e-mail, “Forrest is going to work hard to win the support of Democrats, Republicans, and Independents across Cook County. He looks forward to working with Alderman Preckwinkle to make the property system fair and transparent.”

My next call was to Roger Keats, 61, the former state senator who is running as a Republican against Preckwinkle in the general election next November. “Why is anyone surprised?” he asked about Preckwinkle sticking with Berrios. “She re-nominated Berrios to be chairman of the county party. She is close to Madigan and close to Berrios…. She is part of the Chicago machine.”

Keats told me that he signed Claypool’s petition—he needs to collect 25,000 signatures by June 21—but in the assessor’s race he’s backing the Republican candidate, Sharon Strobeck-Eckersall, a former Evanston Township assessor—the only one, he says, who is a licensed appraiser.

More about the only-in-Illinois tangled business/political ties and conflicts between Madigan and Berrios can be found here and here.


Photograph: Flickr / Toni Preckwinkle photostream