ROUNDUP: Evans Steps Up, Levar Steps Down, Huggins Steps Quietly

>> JUDGE ASSESSES FIELD FOR BERRIOS SEAT

Joseph Berrios picks no favorites for his soon-to-be vacant commissioner post on the Cook County Board of Review

As the dust settles from the Nov. 2 election, it seems that one of the biggest winners locally was Cook County Chief Judge Timothy Evans—and not only because he won retention to the bench.

With Cook County Board of Review Commissioner Joe Berrios victorious in the Cook County assessor’s race and poised to leave the Board of Review—a little-known but hugely influential public body that reviews property tax assessment appeals—Evans gets to appoint Berrios’s successor.

“The statute certainly does provide that opportunity. I plan to carry that out,” Evans told the Better Government Association. “There was no reason to interview anyone until we knew.”

Among the requirements for interested folks: they must live in the district for at least the past two years, and be of the same political party as the exiting commissioner, who in this case is Democratic.

Some of the likely front-runners include:

  • Thomas Jaconetty – He was appointed to a seat on the Board of Review in 1988 when Harry H. Semrow passed away, but most recently has been serving as first-assistant commissioner to Berrios. His experience with the property tax system and election law is vast, but he would not tip his hand whether he’s interested in the post.
  • Daniel Pikarski – He’s an attorney who appeals property tax assessments in front of the Board of Review. His law firm has earned millions of dollars in assessment breaks for its clients. Pikarski used to work for the Cook County state’s attorney’s office. He declined to comment.
  • Michael Stone – He’s chief deputy assessor under the outgoing assessor, Jim Houlihan. Like Jaconetty, Stone has experience with the property tax system. He said he’s interested in filling the slot.

Berrios, who also is chairman of the Cook County Democratic Party, indicated some days back that he had not spoken with Evans about the position but would like to at some point. The soon-to-be-assessor also said he doesn’t have any favorites in mind and that nobody has come forward about replacing him.

“I’m not going to demand to put my person in there,” said Berrios.

All we ask is that Evans picks someone who will avoid the patronage, nepotism and fundraising conflicts that marked Berrios’s tenure on the Board of Review.

>> OLD-SCHOOL POL HANGING IT UP

Ald. Patrick Levar will not seek a seventh term in the 45th

We’re certainly sorry for Ald. Patrick Levar’s (45th) health woes, and wish him the best in his fight against prostate cancer, which contributed to his recent decision not to run for re-election.

That said, let’s hope that whoever replaces him in the Chicago City Council takes a more enlightened view of government.

Levar has represented the 45th Ward on the Northwest Side for years, and serves as the Democratic committeeman. He’s a product of the old Tom Lyons operation. (Lyons is the late committeeman and county Democratic Party chief.)

Levar is old school, to put it mildly.

Look no further than his fundraising operation. The first word that comes to mind is “unabashed.”

One of his previous money men was Chris Kelly, the shady Blagojevich adviser who ended up killing himself.

He continues to take campaign cash from a union whose secretary-treasurer, public records show, has reputed organized crime ties.

And he solicits and accepts donations from would-be contractors seeking approval from the City Council committee that he chairs.

Let’s hope that Levar’s successor takes a more 21st Century worldview for the sake of Chicago, and the Northwest Side.

>> MR. QUIET HAS DEEP POCKETS
Standing on a platform as a Metra express train roars by can be quite the experience.

The thundering steel shakes the ground and whips up hurricane-like gusts.

To put it in human terms, it’s nothing like Larry Huggins – the longest-serving member of Metra’s board who’s known as a rather quiet and unassuming fellow, at least in his official capacities.

But make no mistake, he’s a powerful force as well – in business and fundraising circles. He runs one of the largest minority-owned construction companies around – Riteway – which over the years has teamed up with heavyweight companies such as Walsh and McHugh.

In the process, Huggins has made a lot of money – and has given away tons, quietly becoming one of the more deep-pocketed political patrons around.

By our count, in a little more than a decade, he, Riteway and its affiliates have donated more than $350,000 to local political candidates – a whopping amount that’s been spread around to dozens of candidates and campaigns, everyone from Cook County Commissioner William Beavers and Former CPS CEO Paul Vallas, to lame duck Cook County Board President Todd Stroger, Mayor Daley and President Obama.

All the while, Huggins has stayed out of the spotlight, not at all a household name.

And that’s how he’ll stay, at least for now. He declined to talk about himself or his political activities to the Better Government Association, indicating through a Metra spokeswoman that he’s a pretty private guy.

So why are we writing this? Certainly not to say Huggins did anything wrong. He’s just one of the powerbrokers in town who is quietly shaping the political and government landscape.

This blog entry was reported and written by Robert Herguth and Patrick Rehkamp. Contact us with tips, suggestions and complaints at (312) 821-9030, or at rherguth@bettergov.org.

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