CHICAGO
02/15/2012 05:35 pm ET

Joe Berrios, Cook County Assessor, Gets 'Valentine' For Nepotism

Cook County Assessor Joe Berrios, who has said on multiple occasions that he hires his family members and does not feel bad about doing so, received a "valentine" from a political opponent in Tuesday's Chicago Sun-Times.

The classified ad featured a photo of the smiling Berrios, along with a message from his "family":

Happy V-day

Uncle Joe,

Thank you for the jobs and promotions.

We couldn’t have gotten them without you.

With love, the Berrios family

Alonso Zaragoza, who is hoping to unseat Berrios as the 31st Ward Democratic committeeman, has taken credit for the ad, CBS Chicago reports.

“I want them to know that corruption isn’t acceptable in Chicago’s 31st Ward, nor is nepotism, nor patronage. And the community deserves a lot better,” Zaragoza told the Sun-Times.

When it comes to nepotism and patronage, few recent politicians have been as up front about hooking up family and friends as Berrios. When asked about hiring his son and sister immediately after winning the assessor seat, Berrios told "Chicago Tonight" host Phil Ponce he "still won the election," despite documented nepotism and said he was up front about hiring friends and family members to taxpayer-funded county positions.

In January of 2011, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle forced Berrios to cut his budget by 16 percent, which led to 53 layoffs in the assessor's office. Forty eight union members and five non-union employees lost their jobs--but Berrios' sister, son and daughter were spared. Berrios even managed to make a new hire--his longtime friend (and possible lover) Vicki LaCalamita, and gave his daughter a $10,000 raise. Berrios also brought LaCalamita's family on board, giving her son a $57,000-a-year job before he even graduated from college.

When asked about his daughters hefty salary, Berrios told the Sun-Times that she was "entitled" to it.

Andy Shaw of the Better Government Association previously summed up Berrios' dealings as "eminently unethical and a giant conflict of interest."

Berrios slammed Zaragoza for taking out the ad in the Sun-Times, calling him a "coward" and saying that it was "unfair" that the ad claimed to be placed by his family members.

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