Cook County assessor Joseph Berrios carries nominating petitions for the Democratic slate of candidates. Credit: Rich Hein/Sun-Times

Joe Berrios—one of the last vestiges of Chicago machine politics who stacked his payroll with relatives and oversaw a vastly unfair property tax system—is out.

With two-thirds of the precincts reporting Tuesday evening, the Cook County assessor, who also heads the county’s vast Democratic Party apparatus, conceded the hotly contested primary race.

“My people tell me that our numbers are down,” Berrios told reporters outside Lazo’s Tacos in Logan Square. “I inherited a system that was over 40 years old. . . . [Cook County Board president] Toni Preckwinkle and I will hopefully correct some errors we have made in the past. We will see what happens, but it’s going to be up to the new assessor to follow through.”

Is Berrios done with politics?

“I think that he’s probably going to enjoy his retirement, but he wants to make sure the office is transitioned in a great way,” said Jacob Kaplan, executive director of the Cook County Democratic Party.

Even though Fritz Kaegi is the favorite to win and is leading in the results, the election might not be completely resolved tonight, as a third candidate, Andrea Raila, is planning to challenge the results in court.

The atmosphere at the party for Kaegi was electric Tuesday night as Latin rhythms pulsed and colorful lights flashed at the Apollo’s 2000 theater in Little Village.

“Tonight . . .  we’re gonna make tax assessments fair and ethical and transparent, because this is what the people of Cook County deserve,” Kaegi said.

The venue was also the party location for Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, who won the primary to take the seat held by outgoing congressman Luis Guitérrez.

“Tonight is a great night for Chicago’s southwest side . . . for the urban community and suburban community of Chicagoland, it is a new day,” Garcia said to chanting supporters.

“We have made history. You have made history. You have decided that the nation is ready to send an immigrant from Durango, Mexico, to Congress,” he said. “We know that we are ready—we have been ready for a long time.”

Fritz Kaegi celebrates with Jesus "Chuy" Garcia Tuesday night.
Fritz Kaegi celebrates with Jesus “Chuy” Garcia Tuesday night.Credit: Reader/Maya Dukmasova

Earlier in the day, Kaegi made campaign appearances with congressional incumbents Danny Davis and Robin Kelly. On a stop in Logan Square with Cook County commissioner Luis Arroyo and Metropolitan Water Reclamation District candidate Marcelino Garcia, Kaegi was upbeat and optimistic.

“It’s been a very long process, we’ve been doing this since May,” he said, “but it’s been amazing to have it all come to fruition. We’re expecting good results, we’re really excited.”

Kaegi launched his race last May, but was vaulted into the spotlight after a series on investigations by the Chicago Tribune and ProPublica Illinois exposed a vastly unfair property tax assessment system under Berrios. Homeowners and commercial property owners in lower-income neighborhoods were found to be paying vastly more in property taxes than their counterparts in wealthier areas. Additionally, Berrios’s office encouraged a property tax appeals system that benefited the wealthy, and took millions of dollars in campaign contributions from property tax appeal lawyers.

What’s more, Berrios put relatives, including his son and sister, on his payroll—and vigorously defended the hires despite widespread criticism.

Kaegi campaigned on a commitment not to take donations from property tax lawyers doing business with the county. His campaign was largely self-funded, though he said that they’d attracted more than 1,000 donors. Kaegi himself gave more than $1.5 million to his campaign.

Despite the assessor’s race attracting more attention than possibly at any other time in the county’s history, some voters Tuesday remained out of the loop. A man electioneering for a judicial candidate in front of the Logan Square polling place asked Kaegi about Berrios.

“He’s created a huge amount of economic damage,” the candidate explained. “Our current assessor is unapologetic about all the things that he’s done.”

“I wish I would have met you sooner,” the man said. “I think I might have voted for the incumbent, I’m so sorry.”

“Gotta be educated on this stuff!” Kaegi responded with a chuckle. “It’s all right. Next time, brother.”

Though much of the focus has been on Berrios and Kaegi, Raila fought tooth and nail to get on the ballot. She was knocked out of the race for faulty petition signatures after the ballots were already printed. Announcements were made that votes for her would not count.

Last week she successfully appealed the ruling and was back to being a candidate in good standing. But confusion persisted as late as Tuesday morning, when the Chicago Board of Elections told some election judges that votes for Raila wouldn’t count. The judges thus passed out some incorrect information to voters. Spokesman Jim Allen later apologized and said that correct instructions were ultimately provided to all poll workers and voters. But as the polls closed Raila’s campaign was already preparing to challenge the results.

“What we’re asking for is to stop and suppress all voting for assessor and to have a supplementary or new election just for assessor,” Raila’s attorney Frank Avila told reporters.