Forrest Claypool formally entered the race for Cook County Assessor Tuesday morning, launching a fiery opening barrage against his Democratic opponent Joseph Berrios.
In his official announcement, Claypool said of Berrios, "He's in the pocket of the special interests, and that's affecting our pocketbooks."
Berrios won the Democratic primary for county assessor with 39 percent of the vote, a race that Claypool was not in. But according to Tuesday's announcement, he decided to come out of a brief political retirement to challenge Berrios as an independent.
After losing the Cook County Board President's primary to then-incumbent John Stroger, Claypool announced that he'd be returning to the private sector. But Claypool told Chicago Sun-Times columnist Carol Marin last week, "I was angered and surprised someone like Joe Berrios with record low turnout could slip in with 39 percent of the vote . . . carried over the finish line by ward bosses."
The county assessor sets the value of private property in the county for tax purposes. Berrios was criticized in the primary for being a political insider and machine man who would give tax breaks to big businesses with which he was connected. And a recent Sun-Times editorial explains the close personal and political connections between Berrios and powerful House Speaker Michael Madigan.
Claypool is known as an independent-minded reformer, and he is criticizing Berrios along the same lines as his primary opponents. From his prepared remarks, as reported by the Sun-Times' Lynn Sweet:
If elected the independent assessor of Cook County, I'll continue to stand up for taxpayers - not big businesses or their clout-heavy law firms. I'll start by declaring my independence from the tax appeal lawyers who fund Joe Berrios.
I pledge to you today: I will not take their money.
Now, I know this campaign won't be easy - and I just made it harder. Joe Berrios will have more money. He'll have the precinct organizations. But I'll have some-thing more important: support from thousands of taxpayers across this county who are tired of playing second-fiddle to those with clout and connections.
Claypool's candidacy will face a major hurdle right away: the collection of signatures. As an independent, he'll need 20,000 names, according to The Capitol Fax blog. And he won't be allowed to use any volunteers who have worked for his previous campaigns, leading Cap Fax to speculate that he'll turn to paid circulators, "which haven't always proved to be all that reliable in Chicago."
The deadline for filing petitions, Sweet reports, is June 21.