Arroyo and Berrios kiss and make up


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Cook County assessor Joseph Berrios carries nominating petitions for the Democratic slate of candidates. - RICH HEIN/SUN-TIMES
  • Rich Hein/Sun-Times
  • Cook County assessor Joseph Berrios carries nominating petitions for the Democratic slate of candidates.

In a sure sign of the Christmas season, state rep Luis Arroyo has made peace with his arch rival, Cook County assessor Joe Berrios—in distinctly Chicago fashion.

No, they did not exchange a mistletoe kiss. Instead, they sicced their lawyers on a weaker opponent, who dared to challenge Arroyo.

'Cause nothing says Christmas in Chicago like the big boys teaming up to knock a rookie opponent from the ballot.

OK, let's run through the characters:

In addition to being assessor, Berrios is chairman of the Cook County Democratic Party and has been a player in Humboldt Park politics almost since I was in high school.

That's a long, long time ago, my friends.

Arroyo learned the art of Chicago politics from alderman Richard Mell, for whom he once toiled as a precinct captain. In recent years, he's emerged as the new boss in this section of town, as several of his handpicked candidates beat a bunch of candidates backed by Berrios.

For months, Arroyo's let it be known he was looking to run someone against Berrios in next year's race for Democratic committeeman of the 31st Ward.

Apparently, cooler heads prevailed. Calls were made. Meals shared. And Democratic powerhouses such as alderman Ed Burke, house speaker Mike Madigan, and Mell helped spread the message: Fellas, why fight when there are enough goodies for everyone?

The first sign of peace came last month, when no one filed to run against Berrios, who will get to keep his committeeman seat because it's really hard to lose when you're running unopposed. Even in Chicago, where stranger things have been known to happen.

And now Arroyo and Berrios have assembled an A-team of election-law lawyers to gang up on Joaquin Vazquez, a fire department administrator who dared to run against Arroyo in the March primary for state representative from the Third District.

To try to prove that Vazquez doesn't have enough valid nominating petition signatures to make the ballot, they brought in Michael Kasper, Madigan's election-law lawyer of choice. As such, he's basically on call for Arroyo, since Madigan takes care of his caucus members.

To help Kasper—as if he needs it—they brought in Thomas Jaconetty, Berrios's go-to election-law expert.

And just in case those two weren't enough, they enlisted Frank Avila, who's something of a consigliere to Mell.

No one involved wanted to talk openly about the situation.

"Let's just say they patched up their differences," says a Berrios ally.

"My only comment is that I'm Sammy Davis Jr.," says Avila. 

He was responding to my assertion that he, Kasper, and Jaconetty were the Rat Pack of election-law lawyers. I'll let Jaconetty and Kasper decide who gets to be Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. "Yeah, but who's Joey Bishop?" says Avila.

My guess is that Arroyo brought in Avila to keep Vazquez from hiring him. It's sort of like what Tony Soprano did to Carmella Soprano when he met with all the top divorce lawyers in New Jersey.

"You know, Tony, it's a multiple-choice thing with you. 'Cause I can't tell if you're old-fashioned, you're paranoid, or just a fucking asshole."

Sorry, I can't mention Carmella without quoting that great line.

Back to our saga.

"In the first hearing, we walked in and there were actually five lawyers for the other side—I think some were junior partners," says Paul Ogwal, a strategist for Vazquez. "The hearing officer was shocked. He said, 'How many lawyer does it take to file an objection?'"

Hey, maybe that hearing officer can be Joey Bishop!

All in all, the situation establishes at least three things:

One, Berrios, who's been ruled down and out more than once, has more escape moves than Houdini.

Two, Arroyo has reached that exalted state in Illinois politics, where—like Burke and Mell—he considers it an insult to have even one token opponent.

'Cause you wouldn't want the little people to think that they actually have a choice.

And, three, when it comes to the gift of entertaining political antics, it's always Christmas in Chicago.


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