The two leading candidates for Cook County Assessor appeared on WTTW's "Chicago Tonight" last night, but it was the Democrat who came under fire for most of the program.
Joe Berrios was asked repeatedly by host Phil Ponce about allegations of pay-to-play politics and nepotism, charges that have been put forth by his Independent opponent Forrest Claypool and a number of media organizations.
Watch the WTTW interview below.
Berrios currently serves on the Cook County Board of Review, which hears disputes over property tax assessments. The office he is running for would be in charge of setting property tax values for the entire county.
But the Chicago Tribune, the Sun-Times and Chicago Magazine, among others, have repeatedly questioned influence-peddling at Berrios' office. Tax review lawyers, including those from the firms of House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton have received hundreds of millions of dollars in property tax cuts from the Board of Review.
Meanwhile, Berrios also works as a lobbyist, pressing people like Madigan and Cullerton to pass legislation for his clients.
When Ponce asked Berrios about this potential conflict of interest, he said that he would give up his lobbying efforts if elected as assessor.
Claypool's response: "If it's inappropriate to lobby as assessor, why isn't it inappropriate to lobby as a member of the Board of Review?"
Ponce also asked Berrios about donations his campaign received from tax appeals lawyers. Many of these checks came through within days of the attorneys meeting with Berrios and receiving favorable assessments.
Berrios described the timing as "totally coincidental." The donations "could have been there earlier, it could have been there later, I don't know."
Still later in the interview, Ponce came after Berrios for hiring members of his family. "Right now at the Board of Review, you've hired your son, your sister, two sisters-in-law and a brother-in-law, and a daughter already works at the assessor's office."
The candidate responded defensively: "If you were related to me, and I go out and get you a job in a different department in Cook County... am I hiding the fact that you're gonna work in government? No, I'm out front. I'm out front. I'm out front with it."
Ponce directed little heat at Claypool. At the end of the interview, he did ask the former Park District head about his absence from the February primary. "It was one of those crazy, crazy days, like we all have," Claypool said. "I think in the last 30 years, I've missed two elections out of about 60."
Watch the interview on WTTW: