Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Assessing the clout in tax board race

Crain's talks about the tax board race...
After two years of Springfield brawling, Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan and Cook County Assessor Jim Houlihan reached a temporary truce last fall in their war over proposed property-tax caps. But hostilities have broken out on a new front this winter: the race for the swing seat on an obscure but powerful panel that reviews property assessments here.
Officially, the Feb. 5 Democratic primary contest for a seat on the county Board of Review pits incumbent Joseph Berrios against self-styled reformer and newcomer Jay Paul Deratany. But barely behind the scenes, the shadows of Messrs. Houlihan and Madigan loom just about everywhere in a contest with a certain snake-vs.-mongoose quality.

The designated heavy in this political drama is Mr. Berrios, a longtime Madigan ally who chairs the Cook County Democratic Committee, aka “the Machine.”

Mr. Berrios is a politician of the old school. He has raised millions of dollars in campaign cash the old-fashioned way, by soliciting lawyers, appraisers, consultants and others who appear before the three-member board seeking to reduce property assessments for their clients below the level set by Mr. Houlihan’s office. Assessment cuts ordered by the board amount to big money — $2 billion just last year by one count, most granted not to homeowners but owners of commercial property. Such actions have sparked quite a debate over whether something untoward has occurred or whether assessments on office buildings and the like are inherently more complex and subject to change.

Mr. Deratany, a 45-year-old lawyer whose only prior political experience was running for judge a few years ago, clearly is of the belief that it’s hinky. “I see (Mr. Berrios) — I can’t say it any other way — as corrupt,” Mr. Deratany puts it. “I see a guy (Mr. Berrios) taking money from lawyers who have cases pending before him.”

Mr. Madigan’s law firm regularly appears before the Board of Review on behalf of clients seeking a tax cut, Mr. Deratany notes. Because Mr. Berrios works part-time as a lobbyist in Springfield, that means Mr. Berrios is lobbying Mr. Madigan on behalf of clients at the same time that Mr. Madigan’s law firm is asking the Berrios board to cut taxes for its clients, Mr. Deratany concludes.
I don't know how true this is for most of the Sixth Ward, but also on the ballot is Larry Rogers who's running unopposed for re-election to his seat of the Cook County Board of Review. So Rogers is a colleague of Berrios.

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