Burying Berrios? Polls put challenger Kaegi ahead in assessor’s race

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Cook County Assessor Joe Berrios (left) and Fritz Kaegi. | Sun-Times files

A set of polls released Friday showed Democratic primary challenger Fritz Kaegi with a sizable lead in his bid to unseat Cook County Assessor Joseph Berrios — but the embattled incumbent’s campaign says Berrios is not sweating over the numbers.

Two of the polls — one commissioned by a progressive group backing Kaegi, the other by an independent pollster — gave the challenger double-digit percentage-point leads in a potential head-to-head matchup with Berrios among likely Democratic voters in the March 20 primary.

But Berrios campaign manager Mario Lopez said their own internal polling showed Berrios “with a comfortable lead.” The Berrios campaign declined to release its poll.

One survey ordered by Our Revolution Illinois, a political action committee that has endorsed Kaegi, put the challenger up 44 percent to Berrios’ 27 percent. Twenty-nine percent of the 757 respondents were undecided in the automated telephone poll, which was taken on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Andrea Raila | Sun-Times file photo

Andrea Raila | Sun-Times file photo

That poll, which had a 3.6 percent margin of error, did not include Andrea Raila, who is fighting to stay on the ballot after an election board hearing officer recommended removing her due to a pattern of alleged fraud in her nominating petitions.

Victory Research conducted two other polls of 683 likely primary voters, one with Raila on the ballot and one without her. In the head-to-head-poll, Kaegi led Berrios 43.8 percent to 32.9 percent, with 23.3 percent undecided.

The Oak Park financial analyst’s edge over Berrios was trimmed down to 32.1 percent to 28.4 percent in the three-way poll, with 21.4 percent choosing Raila and 18.2 percent undecided. There was a 3.75 percentage point margin of error in the polls, which were taken between Jan. 30 and Feb. 3.

The Victory Research polling company is led by Rod McCulloch, a former Republican strategist who was convicted of falsifying signatures in 2008. McCulloch said Friday that he briefly worked for Raila’s campaign last fall helping to round up signatures for her nominating petitions — but he noted that his work for the campaign was done well before the ballot challenge that has left her candidacy up in the air. He said he has no ties to the Kaegi or Berrios campaigns.

Berrios has been considered politically vulnerable since a Chicago Tribune-Pro Publica report last fall suggested major disparities along racial and socioeconomic lines in his office’s assessment practices. Kaegi’s campaign has tried to paint Berrios, who also serves as the county’s Democratic Party chairman, as the face of old-fashioned Democratic Machine politics.

“The recent Our Revolution Illinois/Chicago poll confirms what we’ve known for quite some time — that the voters of Cook County are ready for a change,” Kaegi campaign manager Rebecca Reynolds said.

Berrios, who has been in office since 2010, has fought back against those claims, touting his accomplishments in getting tax bills out on time for the first time in decades to save taxpayers “many tens of millions of dollars.” He has notched endorsements from top Illinois Democrats including U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.

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