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Monday, January 28, 2008

Keep it simple

Posted By on 01.28.08 at 08:08 PM

The race for commissioner of the Cook County Board of Review is getting a little ridiculous, as each day seems to bring a new flyer from the candidates raising issues that bear no relevance to the office.

Over the weekend, for instance, I got a mailing from incumbent commissioner Joseph Berrios telling me that Berrios favors "clean air and water" and "better schools."

That came on the heels of a mailing from Berrios calling for a property tax freeze.

His challenger Jay Paul Deratany is a little better -- at least his flyers tell you what the office does. But one of his mailings features separate pictures of Berrios and Cook County Board president Todd Stroger with the headline "The guy behind the guy behind your high property tax bill." It's as if Berrios, as opposed to, oh, Mayor Daley, was most responsible for ushering Todd Stroger in.

I suppose it's nice that Berrios likes clean air and schools and that Deratany doesn't appreciate Stroger. But these issues have nothing to do with the board of review. The board is a three-person body that hears appeals from county property taxpayers regarding their assessments. The higher the assessment, the higher their property taxes. If the board lowers the assessment, the taxpayer pays less, but somebody else pays more to compensate.

It's a crummy system that favors people who know how to use it at the expense of everyone else, which is why Berrios would rather talk about schools and the environment. As for Deratany, the real issue is not whether Berrios is too close to Stroger, who's not a tax appeal lawyer, but whether he's too chummy with house speaker Michael Madigan, alderman Ed Burke, and other property tax lawyers who regularly bring cases before the board. Deratany doesn't put Burke and Madigan on his mailing in part because he doesn't want to pick fights with the real powers that be and in part because most voters have absolutely no idea what the board does or how the Burkes and Madigans shape its decisions.

As strategists from different campaigns have been telling me for weeks, you have to keep things simple because people are simpletons.

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