PI Original Matthew Blake Thursday March 8th, 2012, 10:17am

Berrios Uses Mailer, Money To Fend Off Guzzardi

The Democratic primary race for 39th district state representative pits Maria Berrios, a proverbial “insider” incumbent, against Will Guzzardi, the consummate “outsider” insurgent.

The Democratic primary race for 39th district state representative pits Maria Berrios, a proverbial “insider” incumbent, against Will Guzzardi, the consummate “outsider” insurgent.

Berrios is daughter of Joe Berrios, the controversial Cook County assessor and chairman of the Cook County Democratic Party. She has breezed to re-election victories since taking control of the office in 2003. She is Puerto Rican in a majority Latino district that includes the Logan Square and Belmont-Cragin neighborhoods.

Guzzardi is 24, white, and first moved to Chicago after graduating college from Brown University. He was formerly a reporter for the Huffington Post.

Berrios and Guzzardi would be reliably progressive votes on most issues. However, the biographies appear relevant.

The less funded and connected Guzzardi could be more likely to deviate from the platform of Speaker of the House Mike Madigan, and more actively push on social and economic justice issues. “My opponent has voted 92 percent of the time with the leadership in Springfield,” Guzzardi notes.

The Berrios campaign says just the opposite – especially in a controversial mailer. The mailer shows two old men deviously laughing with the headline, “They buy a corporate jet and pay nothing.”

“A U.S. District Court judge found that a law firm, which state records show is allied with Guzzardi, helped provide legal cover for a tax shelter “scheme” that cheated taxpayers out of more than $62 million,” the mailer reads.

Berrios defends the flier. "The fact is that Will Guzzardi has received campaign funding from an individual whose law firm defended large Wall Street financial firms that have received billions of dollars in taxpayer-funded bailouts and also worked to shield the assets of millionaires and billionaires," Berrios wrote in an e-mail.

It is questionable, though, if Berrios is really a more ethical fundraiser or stronger opponent of corporate giveaways.

According to Capitol Fax, the law firm mentioned on the flier is Proskauer Rose, LLP in New York City. An individual attorney at the firm gave $500 to the Guzzardi campaign.

Even if this attorney were involved in the tax shelter scheme, the $500 contribution is a small fraction of the $22,951 Guzzardi had at the end of 2011. “The mailer is just trying to confuse and mislead folks,” Guzzardi says.

Guzzardi got the majority of his money from outside of Illinois. But what money he did bring in is dwarfed by the incumbent’s haul.

Berrios sat on $94,407 at the end of 2011. So far this year, her campaign raised over $66,000, according to records available at the Illinois State Board of Elections web site. Guzzardi has received no contributions more than $1,000 this year – excepting a $5,000 loan Guzzardi himself made to the campaign.

The most prolific donor to Berrios is the Illinois Democratic Party. Other donors range from the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce to Luis Gutierrez for Congress.

Guzzardi claims that such contributions push Berrios to toe the party line – including a vote to give CME Group, Inc. financial exchange and Sears Holding Corp. corporate tax breaks last December. “My opponent has been indebted to the people who have funded her,” Guzzardi says.

It is unclear what specific issues or causes are dear to Berrios. Her web site’s “Issues” page does not include any legislative activity from Berrios since 2008.

Guzzardi stressed that he is for “helping small businesses have access to grants and loans” and investing in infrastructure.

Guzzardi also said that he opposed a major education reform law that passed the Illinois House 112-1 last spring. The bill, which allowed the Chicago Public Schools to unilaterally impose a longer school day, among other provisions, is part of an education policy approach that “under funds and vilifies teachers,” Guzzardi contends.

Guzzardi picked up the endorsements of both the Illinois Education Association and Chicago Teachers Union. The Cook County Progressive Alliance Political Action Committee has also endorsed Guzzardi.

Berrios’s endorsements include the Illinois AFL-CIO and AFSCME Council 31.

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