Berrios needs to do an assessment of his political base

SHARE Berrios needs to do an assessment of his political base

Cook County Assessor and Democratic Chairman Joe Berrios is looking awfully vulnerable these days for a guy who easily won re-election just a few months ago and who started this year sitting on more than $1.3 million in campaign funds.

In Chicago politics, power emanates from being able to control your base, and the clear evidence is that Berrios has lost command of the 31st Ward that gave him his seat at the power table.

On Monday, Berrios’ longtime political sidekick, Ald. Ray Suarez, revealed he will not go to court to fight the results of the April 7 runoff election that currently show former Telemundo reporter Milly Santiago narrowly defeating him.

In a statement released by his campaign, Suarez said he did “not believe it is in the best interests of residents of the ward” for him to seek a recount.

Suarez did not formally concede, but the decision not to formally contest the results by Monday’s legal deadline appeared to be a tacit admission the votes aren’t there for him.

According to the latest tally from the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners, Santiago has an 86-vote lead.

The count continues as absentee ballots trickle in by mail, and the results won’t be official until April 21.

“I will abide by the final decision made April 21 when the board of elections certifies the results,” said Suarez, who has been alderman since 1991.

If Suarez thought he could still win, you can bet he would have gone to court to preserve his right to a recount.

That would make the second big loss in a year for Berrios, whose daughter Toni was defeated for re-election in the 2014 Democratic primary for the state representative seat he previously held.

If Berrios can’t defend his 31st Democratic committeeman’s post in next year’s election, when it will be a certainty that somebody will be gunning for him, then he’ll lose his post as county Democratic chairman as well.

“It’s obvious they are in a weakened position. People can taste the blood in the water,” another Democratic committeeman told me Monday.

Rep. Will Guzzardi, who defeated Toni Berrios, is among a bevy of Northwest Side elected officials including Congressman Luis Gutierrez who bucked the Berrios-Suarez organization by backing Santiago.

The real string-puller behind the Santiago race, though, was state Rep. Luis Arroyo, an emerging powerhouse in Northwest Side Democratic politics.

Arroyo also was the major backer for newly elected 36th Ward alderman Gilbert Villegas, and previously for his son, Cook County Commissioner Luis Arroyo Jr.

Having wounded Berrios, it will now be up to Arroyo to finish him off. Whether that’s with Santiago or somebody else is too early to say. Insurgent aldermen usually try to consolidate their power by running for committeeman in the next election.

We saw a similar scenario in reverse a couple years ago when Karen Yarbrough ousted Eugene Moore as Proviso Township committeeman, then took him out as recorder of deeds.

It’s not as if Berrios will go into battle defenseless.

He was re-elected in 2014 to a new four-year term as assessor, one of the most politically powerful positions in Chicago because of the access it affords to campaign fund-raising opportunities.

Then there’s his alliance with Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan, the state Democratic chairman whose law firm specializes in property tax appeals and who therefore takes a special interest in the assessor’s job.

For reasons that are less clear, Berrios also enjoys the support of Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, whose progressive credentials took a hit when she made television commercials in support of Suarez.

Still, I’d say it’s only a matter of time before the rest of the dominoes fall and Berrios is collecting his pension.

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