b. February 14, 1952
Cook County Assessor (2010-)
Chairman, Cook County Democratic Party (2007-)
Chicago, 31st Ward Democratic Committeeman (1987- )
Cook County, Commissioner, Board of Review (1988-2010)
Illinois, State Representative (1982-1988)
For almost eighty years the 31st Ward was ruled by men named Keane. Then-State Senator Thomas E. Keane took over in 1945, when his father, Thomas P. Keane, died. Young Keane led a group of committeemen to oust Mayor Martin Kennelly and slate Richard J. Daley for mayor ten years later, in 1955. Now-mayor Daley made Keane his Council floor leader and rewarded him with the Chair of the City Council Finance Committee in 1958. Keane, now the most powerful Chicago Alderman ever, unabashedly used his positions to enrich himself and everyone in his circle.
In 1974 Keane's lack of ethics caught up with him when crusading U.S. Attorney (later G.O.P. Illinois Governor) James Thompson won Keane's conviction for insider dealing. Although he was forced out of office, Keane managed to run ward affairs from his Kentucky federal jail cell, slating his wife Adeline for Alderman and passing the Committeeman job to 31st Ward Democratic Organization Secretary Edward Nedza in 1976. Here is where young precinct captain named Joe Berrios began to move up, becoming the 31st Ward Democratic Organization Secretary under Nedza.
By 1980 Keane and had Nedza split - but they were united in their opposition to Mayor Harold Washington. Keane was a close ally of Mayor Jane Byrne and Nedza and Berrios worked to elect anti-Washington Aldermanic candidate Miguel Santiago in 1983. Santiago then became a founding member of the Vrdolyak 29 and an regular opponent of "independent" Latinos like Miguel Del Valle and Luis Gutierrez.
In 1987 Nedza was convicted of extortion charges, forcing him to resign the Committeeman post. Berrios was appointed by his precinct captains to replace Nedza and then chose to avoid a tough state legislature reelection race by seeking slating for Cook County Board of Appeals (now called the Board of Review) in 1988. The little-publicized Board of Review, responsible for granting multi-million dollar commercial property tax breaks, has traditionally been a favors and campaign contribution cash machine.
As Committeeman, Berrios was a stalwart supporter of Mayor Richard M. Daley and was an early supporter of the Hispanic Democratic Organization (HDO), the political organization created to dole out patronage jobs and favors to Daley's campaign workers.
Following Thomas Lyons' death in 2007, Berrios competed for Cook County Democratic Chairman with 29th Ward Committeeman (and Alderman) Isaac Carothers and Niles Township Committeeman (and State Representative) Lou Lang. While Lang gathered suburban committeemen votes, Carothers had the backing of Mayor Richard M. Daley and Berrios received the backing of Illinois State Democratic Party Chair (and House Speaker) Michael Madigan, who occasionally lobbied Berrios before the Board of Review. Berrios won the Chairmanship, but Carothers was given the chair of the (once powerful) Slating Committee.
On the Board of Review, Berrios repeatedly clashed with Assessor James Houlihan. In 2004 Houlihan and Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr. sponsored the successful campaign of Larry Rogers, Jr. to remove Berrios ally Robert Shaw. Then in 2006 Houlihan sponsored Brendan Houlihan's (no relation) successful campaign to remove Berrios ally Maureen Murphy. In 2008 Houlihan, now partnered with County Board Commissioner Forrest Claypool, sponsored attorney Jay Paul Deratany's campaign to remove Berrios from the Board of Review. Berrios, who outspent Deratany's $1+ million campaign, held on to his seat by more than ten points.
Throughout his political career Berrios has worked closely with fellow 31st Warder, Thomas Jaconetty. An attorney who does election law work for many Berrios allies, Jaconetty was fired as Board of Review Deputy Commissioner in 2006, the most visible casualty of Jim Houlihan's new control of the Board of Review. When Berrios was appointed Cook County Democratic Party Chair, Jaconetty became the Committee's chief legal counsel.
In 2002 Berrios elected his then 25-year old daughter, Toni Berrios, to a newly created majority-Latino district centered on the 31st Ward, the 39th district. She stayed in her seat until 2015, when she lost to Will Guzzardi in what was characterized as one of the ugliest races of the cycle. It also pulled Joe Berrios' attention away from several aldermanic races. Berrios allies ultimately lost in the 1st, 31st, 35th, and 36th wards.
While serving in the Illinois House Berrios worked a second job as an accountant for the Cook County Board of Appeals (now called the Board of Review). Since then he launched a lobbying firm Berrios-Panayotovich with Sam Panayotovich, a close ally of former convicted Governor George Ryan and of former Alderman Edward Vrdolyak. The firm is now known as B-P Consultants. Berrios also operates an insurance brokerage, J.B. Insurance.
In 2010, James Houlihan retired from his Assessor position. Berrios poured all his resources into the race to succeed Houlihan, barely edging out his one-time ally, Robert Shaw, by less than a percentage point in a three-way race with Ray Figueroa. Claypool ran as an independent.
As Assessor, Berrios has operated an unabashed patronage operation, employing family members and close friends for non-political positions in the office. Court monitors have opposed the hiring, and have ultimately forced the Cook County Board to make hundreds of thousands of compensatory payments to other workers fired to make way for Berrios family hires.
Berrios' heavy political hand has made his name unpopular. While he ran unopposed in 2014, Berrios' name was strong enough to drag his daughter and State Rep. Toni Berrios to defeat against progressive Will Guzzardi and then bring his close ally 31st Ward Ald. Ray Suarez to defeat against Milly Santiago a year later.
While he still holds one of the highest fundraising and politically powerful positions in Illinois, there was talk about a "weakening" Berrios after the 2015 elections. In 2017, the Chicago Tribune and ProPublica Illinois began publishing an investigatory series about disparities in the assessment system, "The Tax Divide." The series found the county failed to value residential, commercial, and industrial property accurately for years. "The result: a property tax system that harmed the poor and helped the rich," it said.
Berrios has defended the assessment system and pledged to cooperate with an outside audit. He blamed many of the problems on Houlihan.
The series led to calls for his resignation, county hearings, and an independent audit of his office by the Civic Consulting Alliance. Two challengers announced runs in the 2018 campaign, which is expected to be one of the most expensive local races of the cycle.
- Lane Technical High School
- University of Illinois, B.S., Accounting
Important Political Events
- 1983, Elected Illinois State Representative, first Latino state legislator
- 1987, Appointed 31st Ward Democratic Committeeman, replacing Edward Nedza
- 1988, Elected 31st Ward Democratic Committeeman, defeating Raymond Figueroa
- 1988, Elected Commissioner, Cook County Board of Appeals (now Board of Review)
- 2002, Slates and assists daughter Antonia Berrios' election to State Representative
- 2007, Appointed Chairman, Cook County Democratic Party by county Democratic committeemen
- 2010, Elected Cook County Assessor, defeating Robert Shaw, replacing James Houlihan
- 2014, Reelected Cook County Assessor, unopposed
- 2014, Daughter Antonia Berrios defeated for State Representative by Will Guzzardi
- 2015, 31st Ward Ald. Ray Suarez defeated by Milly Santiago