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Independence Day Coming for Cook County Voters

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Many Americans have been enthralled by the latest reality show - the ongoing trial of former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich. FBI wiretaps, along with testimony from his former aides, have laid bare how Blagojevich schemed to turn his public office into personal gain.

Unfortunately, Blagojevich is no exception to the political culture in Illinois and, particularly, Cook County.

There are many actors in the insider culture that rules our state and its politics. They wield money and power to cement their own positions, increase their wealth, and punish independent-minded officials who might dare to break with them--candidates or officials who might actually dare to do what's right for the people.

Now those same actors want to seize control of the property tax system in Cook County, returning us to the days when the County Assessor was the "bag man for the Machine."

They will use the office to squeeze money from those staked to the real estate industry and strike even greater fear into the hearts of elected officials who don't toe the line. They will cow and intimidate businessmen who are simply trying to make a living. They will get richer -- and pass the cost of their self-dealing onto us.

The Machine candidate for Assessor is Joseph Berrios, who is chairman of the Cook County Democratic Party and a long-time Commissioner on the Board of Review -- a tax appeal agency. In that position, Mr. Berrios has granted hundreds of millions of dollars in tax relief to the corporate clients of tax attorneys who, in turn, have funneled millions in cash to his campaigns.

This is how the system works in Cook County -- and it doesn't work for us. Our neighborhoods are less affordable than they once were. The "corruption tax" we pay to reward the insiders and the public officials who serve them has driven businesses away -- and repeatedly embarrassed our state.

Fortunately, voters have finally had enough. They're not satisfied with business as usual in Cook County. They want a real choice this November -- a choice that is rarely offered by the anemic and underfunded county Republican Party.

That's why, in an unusual volunteer-driven effort, 90,000 Cook County citizens signed petitions in recent months to put me on the November ballot as an independent candidate for Cook County Assessor. This far exceeded the 25,000 signatures required for an independent candidate -- a threshold expressly designed to discourage any challenge to Democratic Party rule.

Berrios and the Machine intended to knock us off the ballot through expensive legal challenges -- as they often do to those candidates not aligned with their interests. They put on retainer nearly every election lawyer in Illinois. But after reviewing the quality of our petitions, and recognizing the futility of a legal challenge, they backed down.

I am now the first independent candidate in the 78-year history of the Office of Cook County Assessor.

Of course, this doesn't mean that the campaign is over. The insiders and their political patrons will not give up without a fight. They will channel millions of campaign dollars into negative ads in the expensive Chicago TV market, figuring that no independent candidate can compete with their financial muscle.

But that's where they're wrong. This year, the tide has turned.

The voters of Cook County have declared their independence. They have remembered what the founders of this nation taught us from the beginning -- that everyday rebellions are required from time to time to renew liberty and restore democracy. They are determined that, this time, their government will serve the many and not the few.

Forrest Claypool is a Cook County Commissioner. He can be reached at www.forrestclaypool.com.