Forrest Claypool for Cook County Assessor?
Forrest Claypool
Editorial boards and earnest columnists have exhorted readers to sign those petitions for Forrest Claypool—the one man, in their words, standing between fair property tax bills and Joseph Berrios, a machine pol who won the Democratic nomination for assessor in February. 

The signatures are flowing in, and the 52-year-old Cook County commissioner will almost certainly claim a spot on the November ballot as the independent candidate for assessor.

A backlash was inevitable. The Tribune’s John Kass led the way, dubbing Claypool “Sir Forrest,” and ridiculing his reformist cred.

So who is Forrest Claypool? 

A native of Southern Illinois (St. Elmo, population 1,300) and son of a man in the oil-drilling business, he graduated from Southern Illinois University and then the University of Illinois Law School. He lives in Ravenswood and has three children, all of whom were educated in private schools.

Claypool twice served as chief of staff to Mayor Richard M. Daley and ran the Chicago Park District in the ’90s. Like politicians at every level, he’s a mix of reformer and—Kass had it right—conventional party loyalist.

He’s in good company, as the record shows.

Claypool’s loyalist side comes out in the race for Barack Obama’s old U.S. Senate seat. I interviewed him just hours after the feds took over Broadway Bank. He told me that he backs Democratic candidate Alexi Giannoulias, Broadway’s former VP and senior loan officer, and has done so from the start—even after the squeaky-clean Inspector General David Hoffman entered the primary.   

In the Democratic primary for county board president, Claypool did not endorse Ald. Toni Preckwinkle, the candidate with whom the good-government types were most comfortable. He offers a lofty explanation: he was not persuaded that Preckwinkle or any of her opponents would repeal “the hated [Todd] Stroger sales tax.” (Claypool didn’t endorse any candidate in that race.) He now says that he’ll support her in the general election.

Preckwinkle has said publicly that she’s supporting Berrios, a man Claypool describes as “exhibit A of how the insider culture works, where the people who have clout make out and the rest of us get higher taxes.” Claypool told me that he made his decision to run after the primary, when Berrios defeated Raymond Figueroa—a former alderman “who has independent ties that go back to Harold Washington.” When asked if he considered supporting the Republican candidate, former Evanston assessor Sharon Storbeck-Eckersall, he said, “No, no. I don’t really know enough about her, but I do think [Cook County assessor] is a very, very big job.” 

Claypool has known Rahm Emanuel for 30 years and is close friends with David Axelrod, and he has visited the White House several times—most recently on March 28, according to visitor logs. He also claims a friendship with the President—he was chairman of then-Senator Obama’s transition committee in 2004-05—and, during those White House visits, he “chatted” with the President in the Oval Office.

In 2006, Claypool lost in the primary for county board president to incumbent Democrat John Stroger—after Stroger had already suffered a debilitating stroke. Obama—then a senator—didn’t endorse Claypool. “Why?” I asked. “You’ll have to ask [the President],” Claypool said. I already knew the answer: Obama, for all his idealism, is a politician.

Kass speculates that Claypool’s “buddies in the Obama White House” might try to slide Giannoulias out of the Senate race and slip Claypool in. Won’t happen, says Claypool, adding that when Obama’s people asked him informally, early on, if had an interest in going to Washington, he said no.

Claypool’s name is in the mix of those mentioned as possible successors to Rich Daley. “No, no, nope,” Claypool said. Besides, he thinks Daley will run again: “The mayor as a person and the mayor as mayor are so intertwined that it’s hard for me to see him walking away voluntarily.” 

When I asked if his old boss would support Claypool’s independent run for assessor, the Cook County commissioner laughed and said “no.” Daley will support Berrios, obviously, because Daley, too, is a politician.


Photograph: Chicago Tribune