Alderman Slams ‘Machine’ But Doesn’t Stray Far | WBEZ
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Eight Forty-Eight

Alderman Slams ‘Machine’ But Doesn’t Stray Far

Illinois's primary election is just 11 days away. In Cook County, more than a few Democratic candidates are trying to distance themselves from machine politics. But can you criticize the machine without cutting the cord? That's the strategy of one politician on Chicago's Northwest Side. We report from our Humboldt Park bureau.

In his 15 years on the Cook County Board, Roberto Maldonado usually toed the line of Mayor Richard Daley's allies. The teamwork helped Maldonado win Daley's appointment to fill a city council vacancy last summer.

MALDONADO: The mayor knows my political history.

Now that he's 26th Ward alderman, though, Maldonado is having it out with one of Daley's most powerful allies. It's Joe Berrios, a county Board of Review commissioner, a nearby ward's longtime Democratic committeeman, and the party's county chair. Maldonado has witnessed Berrios rise in politics.

MALDONADO: The political machine. That is what has defined his political career.

But to understand why Maldonado isn't getting along with Berrios, you don't have to rewind any further than some political dealings last summer.

MALDONADO: In politics, the only asset you have of any worth is your word.

It was time for committeemen to choose who would complete Maldonado's County Board term. Maldonado was behind a businessman and says Berrios promised to vote for him.

Berrios denies that claim.

BERRIOS: Maldonado, because he didn't get his way, has decided that, ‘Joe Berrios is this evil person.'

Instead of the businessman, Berrios helped install a state trooper. In next month's primary, the businessman and state trooper are squaring off again for the seat. And Maldonado and Berrios have dug in on opposite sides.

Berrios, meanwhile, is himself running for county assessor. And Maldonado is taking him on there too. He's backing one of Berrios's opponents.

I asked Maldonado if this is due to the bad blood since last summer.

MITCHELL: Does this boil down to payback for what Berrios did?

MALDONADO: Nope. We're much more to the left than Commissioner Berrios.

As Maldonado clashes with Berrios, though, he's trying to avoid any trouble with Mayor Daley.

That's led to some awkward moments. Here's Maldonado with the mayor at a press conference this month to promote city home-heating assistance.

MALDONADO: Since I have come to know more closely the mayor, I have [been] amazed by the degree of commitment and passion that he has to improve the lives of the people of the city of Chicago. And sometimes people could misconstrue that passion, might say it's phony, but I have firsthand knowledge that his passion is real.

Those words came just an hour after Maldonado announced his primary endorsements at a Puerto Rican meeting hall. At that event, he hearkened back to a former mayor who turned against machine politicians, including Daley.

MALDONADO: These candidates for Cook County office have reignited the progressive reform movement begun by the late Harold Washington.

Back in his ward office, Maldonado tries to clarify his allegiances.

MALDONADO: What I invoked was that, for me, Harold Washington represented true reform for Chicago politics in which the politics of inclusion first became a reality for all groups in the city of Chicago. I was talking in terms of multiracial coalitions.

If that's Maldonado's point, it hasn't stuck against Berrios, whose allies include Latinos, African Americans and whites.

Maldonado knows he could pay a price for taking on Berrios. If the alderman runs for a full City Council term next year, political operatives on both sides expect Berrios to throw all his weight behind a challenger.

Berrios, for his part, says he won't decide until he sees who is running.

Music Button: Jack DeJohnette feat. Bill Frisell, "Otherworldly Dervishes", from the CD The Elephant Sleeps But Still Remembers, (Golden Beans productions)

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