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Alleges Executive director has worked Cook County property tax system while promoting Claypool

 

Letters To Editor

 

Cook County Democratic Party Chairman Joe Berrios on Wednesday called for the Better Government Association’s Board of Directors to investigate whether its executive director is using the organization to curry political favors and launder campaign money for former Democrat Forrest Claypool.

 He also called on BGA Executive Director Andy Shaw to step down until the board completes the investigation. “Andy Shaw preaches about ending corruption and pay-to-play. Yet he has turned the BGA into a propaganda arm for eccentric millionaires – a group of uber-wealthy Chicago property owners who want tax breaks from Forrest Claypool if he is elected,” Berrios said. “At the same time, Mr. Shaw is enriching himself by receiving tax breaks from the current Cook County assessor.”

Berrios, the Democratic nominee for assessor, called on the BGA’s Board of Directors to:

-Release a list of all donors who have contributed over $1,000 since Shaw took the position in June 2009. According to information contained on the Illinois Board of Elections website, many of the large donors to the BGA from whom Shaw has solicited tax-deductible contributions are also large donors to Claypool, who is running as an independent candidate for Cook County Assessor. The BGA is a 501(c)(3), which means it is prohibited from favoring one candidate over another. Recent reports the BGA published in Chicago Magazine suggest it has done otherwise.

-Investigate whether Shaw knowingly and unjustly enriched himself by allowing his business to receive unjustified property tax benefits from current Cook County Assessor James Houlihan, whose hand-picked successor is Claypool.

 “The BGA has no trouble talking about attorneys giving checks to my campaign for $1,500, but refuses to talk about rich property owners giving not only to the BGA, but to Mr. Claypool. The BGA has also chosen to ignore almost $500,000 in campaign contributions Mr. Claypool received for a sweetheart no-bid parking contract he made,” said Berrios, referring to a 400-year parking lease arrangement that Claypool struck with Ogden Plaza Garage Co. The parking garage company is owned by a Wall Street media mogul who decided to go into the parking garage business.

“It is one of the clearest cases of corruption out there, but Andy Shaw has refused to touch it because he is also working the system,” Berrios said. Shaw and his wife, Mary, own Windy City Urban Inn, a bed and breakfast featured in several hotel magazines and websites. It is marketed by the Shaws as a “new way to do business.” The operation includes a main house with five guest rooms, and a coach house with three apartments. However, it is divided into two separate pins at the Assessor’s Office, and Shaw knowingly received an improper assessment because he’s using it for commercial purposes, which means that it should be classified at 25 percent rather than the 10 percent at which he’s currently assessed, Berrios said.

This spring, Shaw put the business up for sale for $3 million – more than twice its assessed value, according to published reports. According to information obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, Shaw’s proposed assessed value was $94,251. However, less than six months before putting it on the market, Shaw’s wife, Mary, appealed the assessment. The Shaws’ attorney, Stephanie Park, asked for a reduction to $85,891, documents show. However, Assessor Jim Houlihan went above and beyond that, giving the Shaws a 20 percent reduction. The final assessed value of the property was $75,691, according to documents filed at Houlihan’s office, documents show.

“Mr. Shaw received benefits far beyond than he was entitled. Someone at the Assessor’s office decided to do him a favor,” Berrios said. “He got even more than his lawyer asked for – and that just doesn’t happen. There is the appearance that he got a break in exchange to help Assessor Houlihan’s candidate, Forrest Claypool.”

Berrios noted that Shaw, who preaches transparency, had only his wife on the appeal form, and then accepted the large reduction. The attorney, Park, has contributed to Houlihan’s campaign funds. “Andy Shaw knows how government operates, and he worked the system,” Berrios said.

 Berrios also accused Shaw of turning the BGA – a 501(c)3 organization – into a vehicle to fund propaganda campaigns for Claypool. According to information contained on the Illinois Board of Elections website, many of the large donors from whom Shaw has solicited tax-deductible contributions are also large donors to Claypool. “For the sake of transparency, the BGA should release all donors who have contributed over $1,000 since Shaw took the position in June 2009.” Berrios said. BGA donors include J.B. Pritzker, John Canning, and Marge Benton – they alone have contributed almost $50,000 to Claypool. Six BGA board members contributed over $15,000 to Claypool.

 The BGA has issued one-sided reports about the Cook County assessor’s race which show that the organization is attempting to persuade voters to elect Claypool, who is the candidate backed by the organization’s major contributors, Berrios said. According to the Internal Revenue Service website, 501(c)(3) organizations are limited or prohibited in engaging in political activities such as voter education or registration activities with evidence of bias that favor one candidate over another, or oppose a candidate in some manner.

 “As a 501(c)(3) organization, the BGA is required to remain impartial toward candidates. However, they have failed to do so,” Berrios said. “And its non-profit status is questionable at best. I hope the Board of Directors and their contributors take this into consideration before taking their next steps.”

All documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act regarding Windy City Urban Inn will be available for download at www.forrestclaypool.org later today.

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