March 2, 2014. Chicago. As if the election for Illinois’ 39th District State Representative race couldn’t get any more interesting, it just did. The legendary and lovable TV comedian Carol Burnett has privately come to the aid of State Rep challenger, Democrat Will Guzzardi. He can use the help too. He’s challenging the incumbent daughter of the Chairman of the Cook County Democratic Party, Rep. Maria Antonia ‘Toni’ Berrios.
Will Guzzardi, challenging State Rep Toni Berrios, daughter of Cook County Party Chairman Joe Berrios. Image courtesy of LoganSquarist.com.
It’s David vs. Goliath - round 2. Two years ago, Guzzardi challenged the Machine-appointed incumbent State Rep and lost by a heart-breaking 125 votes. Guzzardi is an outsider, non-politician, reform Democrat who isn’t related to any party leaders. And his near upset victory over the Machine-appointed daughter of the Chairman of the Cook County Democratic Machine is an ominous indicator as we approach the March 18 Illinois Democratic Primary Election.
Carol Burnett jumps in
When you see a good guy getting unjustly hurt by a group of bullies, what do you do? If you’re famed comedian Carol Burnett, you jump in the fight to help even the odds a little. That’s what the television sitcom star spanning six decades did when she opened her checkbook and gave a $1,000 contribution to the Ivy League graduate determined to unseat the party chairman’s daughter.
In this case, it’s the daughter of one of the most powerful Machine Democrats of all - Party Chairman Joe Berrios, who is also the Cook County Assessor employing a host of his own children and family members in his own office even after public condemnation by the Inspector General.
Challenger Will Guzzardi on the other hand, is a 26-year-old citizen-candidate from Chapel Hill, North Carolina. He graduated from Brown University and moved to Chicago’s northside Logan Square neighborhood. He’s since worked for the University of Chicago and for a time wrote a column for the Huffington Post. His campaign website describes him as a ‘progressive Democrat’ while his campaign message proclaims, ‘we need elected representatives who are independent of corporate corruption and special interests and political machines, representatives who are accountable to us and us alone.’
Democratic Machine goes too far
Incumbent Democrats in Chicago typically have a 100% re-election rate, which is actually higher than the re-election rate of the Communist Soviet Politburo at the peak of the party’s power when it was illegal to run against them. One way they do it here in Chicago is by not being afraid to blatantly slander and smear their challengers, usually average naïve citizens like Will Guzzardi. And that’s what they’re doing again this time around to the young idealistic reform Democrat.
The headline in today’s Chicago Sun Times reads, ‘Dem Powers stoop to Smear Tactics’. But that headline doesn’t nearly do justice to the level in which State Rep Toni Berrios and the Chicago Democratic Machine have stooped in their desperate attempt to re-elect the powerful Party Chairman’s daughter. As longtime Sun Times political columnist Carol Marin points out, “Toni’s dad, Cook County Assessor Joe Berrios, has built a patronage empire, putting an estimated 15 members of his family on government payrolls.”
The local TV network NBC 5 Chicago also came out and publicly condemned State Rep Toni Berrios’ campaign tactics. They reported, ‘Berrios crosses the line in 39th House Race’. The news giant comes right out and says, “This story is not about Will Guzzardi. This story is about Toni Berrios. This story is about all the Illinois politicians who will do whatever it takes to win, no matter how dirty.”
What did Toni Berrios do?
To answer that question, the above NBC 5 report explains, “First, there was the mailer that said Guzzardi would rob students of an education, even though he is endorsed by the Chicago Teacher’s Union and the Illinois Federation of Teachers…Then came the mail piece that showed a man suggestively leaning over a teenage girl’s school desk with Guzzardi’s face photoshopped on it.”
The outlet goes on to explain, ‘Then, the kicker. As of this writing, the last mailer directly from and paid for by Citizens for Maria A. Berrios, the candidate’s own campaign committee, shows a picture of a man hiding in the shadows who says “Will Guzzardi doesn't want you to know where sexual predators are hiding.” The back side makes it clear: Guzzardi wants to protect child rapists who live next door to you, along with wife beaters and other sexual criminals.’
The main problem is, it’s not true. According to media reports, the Toni Berrios campaign interpreted that from a college paper Guzzardi wrote years ago suggesting that the government practice of selling the names and personal information of sex offenders to for-profit corporations to exploit for their financial gain was simply going too far and even a violation of Americans’ rights. The NBC report closes with their impression of Toni Berrios and her campaign, “The whole thing smacks of desperation. And even more, is morally objectionable at best and repugnant at worst.”
In addition to sending out a flurry of slanderous campaign mailers, the Berrios campaign has resorted to other tricks to beat the upstart Will Guzzardi. Surprisingly, a small handful of incumbent Democrats are endorsing Guzzardi, or at least refusing to support Toni Berrios. One of those is northwest side Alderman and Party Committeeman John Arena (D-45). Arena has complained that the Cook County Democratic Party, Chaired by Toni’s dad Joe Berrios, is refusing to grant access to voter data being held hostage by IL House Speaker and Berrios ally Mike Madigan (D-Chicago).
Arena says he was told by party bosses that any Ward boss, which is what the ‘Committeeman’ job is, that doesn’t endorse the full slate of Machine-backed candidates, including Toni and Joe Berrios, couldn’t have access to the highly valuable past voter histories. When asked where the voter books were, a County Democratic Party spokesman told the Sun Times, “We don’t have it. Madigan has it. Madigan has cut off everybody, including Joe Berrios.”
When approached by the Sun Times for a response, the House Speaker’s spokesman Steve Brown confirmed that the state Democratic Party of Illinois had confiscated the voter books from the Cook County Democratic Party. “The file is used to help incumbents,” Brown told the paper, “That’s what we do. That’s what we understand the policy to have been.” Also barred from using the voter rolls is Alderman Scott Waguespack (D-32), arguably the city’s most popular and respected reform Democrat.
"The news shouldn't be left wing or right wing, conservative or liberal. It should be the news. It should be independent" - Mark Wachtler, Illinois Herald owner/editor
Waguespack told the Sun Times that he was being cut off from Democratic Party resources for the same reason, because he won’t endorse the full party slate of candidates. In his near northside Ward, Waguespack has refused to endorse State Rep Derrick Smith (D-Chicago) who’s under a federal indictment for bribery. “It’s not fair to be forced to support an indicted incumbent,” Waguespack complained, “Not everybody should be forced to jump behind candidates like that.”
Our prediction from the Illinois Herald - Will Guzzardi will beat State Rep Toni Berrios on March 18th.
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