Maria Pappas - Democratic Candidate

Illinois - U.S. Senate Race 2004

Maria Pappas - Democrat

Democratic Opponents in March 16 Primary

Gery Chico Blair Hull Dan Hynes Barack Obama Nancy Skinner
Gery Chico Blair Hull Dan Hynes Barack Obama Nancy Skinner

Maria Pappas' Biography

Maria Pappas' no-nonsense, can-do values are rooted in her childhood in Warwood, West Virginia, in the mining region of the Ohio River Valley.

It's a small community far from Cook County, but Warwood was where Maria's Greek immigrant grandparents told her she could succeed at anything, because that was part of the American Dream. As a youngster, Pappas was the top musician in the All-State Band, touring around the country and at the World’s Fair in Montreal. She also directed the choir and played the electric pipe organ as a teenager at her local church, and she developed a knack for twirling a baton as a drum majorette.

At the same time, Maria developed a keen interest in social service health-care as she worked at the family restaurant across from the region’s only hospital, and as she made deliveries and talked with the hospital’s patients.

That was the basis for Maria Pappas' pursuit of excellence in public service.

Today, Pappas is the only Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate in Illinois with experience as a legislator, and, more importantly, as an executive who took over a troubled agency and built a model of public service.

As Cook County Treasurer, Maria Pappas oversees the collection, investment and distribution of $8 billion a year for 1,600 taxing districts, and a refund system for 1.6 million taxpayers. She was re-elected with nearly 1 million votes in 2002 after the following:

  • Upon taking office in 1998, Pappas found $30 million in un-cashed checks on the floor, not earning interest and not ready to be distributed for schools, police, fire protection and parks. She introduced the lockbox system for same-day processing of payments—and deposits into interest-earning accounts so that funds could reach local agencies faster. Through better accounting and investment controls, Pappas has turned over more than $335 million in new interest and revenues for Cook County.
  • Pappas launched collections at more than 120 banks across the region. She initiated payment over the Internet. More than 2.1 million people have used these services to make payments at their convenience. Long lines during collections are history.
  • Pappas utilized the Internet and a new automated phone system as new tools to reach more than 120,000 property owners who are owed approximately $135 million in unclaimed refunds.
  • Pappas worked to help remove 1,200 African American church properties from the delinquency lists and tax rolls.
  • Pappas proposed and won taxpayer-friendly legislation to help taxpayers clear tax errors administratively, which also reduced the court caseloads.
  • Pappas’ office has set records in the efficient issuance of more than $131 million in overpayment refunds to taxpayers, including the introduction of a system for reducing checks that were submitted for more than what was due.
  • More than 1.9 million people have visited since the start of the year, and currently more than 8,700 taxpayers visit the site each day. More than a payment option, the web site provides for easy interaction on tax balances, refunds, information on reducing the tax burden and more. The site is a leader in providing homeowners with consumer-protection information in the event their mortgage lender makes a mistake on their taxes. Information on programs and helpful forms also can be downloaded. In keeping with the region’s rich diversity, the site offers information in 12 languages.
  • In little more than two months, more than 182,000 taxpayers have used a new automated phone system that provides information around the clock on systems ranging from refunds to tax balances—in English, Polish and Spanish.
  • Through fiscal discipline and controls, the office has returned approximately $4 million in budgeted but unspent funds.
  • The office completed a comprehensive, independent audit for the first time in 26 years. Since then, the office has completed annual audits with “unqualified” opinions and findings of no material weaknesses, firsts in the history of the Office.
  • In 1998, the office had 12 desktop computers, and many systems that required hand-written entries in separate sets of books. Maria Pappas built a 175-terminal network that integrates refunds, collections, deposits, earnings, distributions, and other key office data streams. This change helped deliver faster service, sound accounting controls, higher yields, and better access to data for both taxpayers and taxing agencies.
  • TOPS -Treasurer’s Outreach Program and Services- is a grassroots effort to provide tax information to Cook County’s ethnic communities and senior citizens. TOPS distributes property tax information brochures in 13 languages, hosts ethnic groups, and provides speakers to local clubs and organizations.
  • Studying multi-million-dollar computer systems in California and then duplicating the best of them at a fraction of the cost—by hiring competent programmers.
  • Creating a new safety net "friends and family" delinquency alert system for seniors—an innovation that then became the law for every county treasury in Illinois.

Before moving into public service, Pappas earned a doctorate in counseling and a law degree. As a young woman, Pappas taught in the U.S., England, Holland, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Greece and Israel.

Pappas’ passions include “figuring out how people think,” long-distance bicycling and triathlons, her dog Koukla, playing the piano, twirling the baton, cooking, handwriting analysis and studies on early-childhood memories. Pappas’ bicycling has included participating in the 500-mile Midwest AIDS Ride from Minneapolis to Chicago; the two Ground Zero-to-Pentagon 300-mile rides in memory of those killed in the 9/11 attacks; and the “Cowalunga” Tour to benefit a camp for children with asthma sponsored by the American Lung Association.


Maria Pappas, Cook County Treasurer
So determined to move ahead with her education, Maria Pappas earned her bachelor's degree in three years-as she held down three part-time jobs.

During her years of public service, Ms. Pappas has shown the same focused pursuit of rapid, positive change. In the last four years, she has worked to upgrade the operations of the Cook County Treasurer's Office.

Ms. Pappas' career began in the private sector, where she worked as a psychologist and attorney. She turned toward politics in 1989, winning a seat as Cook County commissioner to represent Chicago's North Side and the North Shore suburbs. In eight years as a commissioner, she built a reputation as a proponent of tax cuts and open government.

In December 1998, Ms. Pappas was sworn in as Cook County Treasurer and vowed to make the office function more like a bank.

Ms. Pappas instituted the lock-box system for collecting and processing tax payments. This system processes mailed-in payments and allows for same-day deposits of tax payments into interest-bearing accounts. It replaced the manual processing of all 1.6 million tax payments through the downtown treasurer's office. This system of faster deposits shattered the previous marks for performance. The year before the lock box, $4.79 million in interest earnings were turned over to taxing districts. The introduction of the lock box pushed interest earnings to $18.96 million the first year and $28 million the year after. Those earnings go to area schools, villages, park systems, libraries and other local taxing districts. Ms. Pappas worked with LaSalle Banks to expand services again-this time allowing taxpayers to submit payments at any of the more than 120 LaSalle Banks across northeastern Illinois. Overall, the Treasurer's Office's investment policy, lock-box program and other steps resulted in more than $122 million in revenue over the earnings of Fiscal Year 1998.

Privatization, combined with automation of several operations and employee attrition, have resulted in a 22 percent reduction in the Office's full-time headcount, which has decreased from 250 to 195 positions.

In January 2001, Pappas added listings of unclaimed inheritances to the Treasurer's Office's web site, which drew more than 3 million visitors from around the world in little more than three weeks. It was the first time a major county launched such an initiative to attempt to locate the rightful heirs of more than $30 million in inheritances.

That same month, Ms. Pappas' office initiated a "third party notification" program, an innovation designed to provide a new protection to senior citizens and other homeowners. Under this program, homeowners select family members and other trusted friends to receive a delinquency notice in the event the homeowner is unexpectedly out of town or in a condition that may prevent them from receiving or understanding an urgent tax notice. This innovation in Cook County later was enacted as a state law for all of Illinois.

In August 2001, Ms. Pappas launched the Treasurer's Outreach Program and Services (TOPS) program to provide brochures to help explain the complex tax system in plain English-as well as translations in Spanish, Polish, Chinese, Korean and Russian.

In October 2001, the Treasurer's Office introduced an Internet service that allows taxpayers to check the status of their current year tax payments at In January 2002, Internet services at the web site grew again with the introduction of on-line property tax payments. In addition, the Treasurer's Office introduced on-line listings of property index numbers and taxpayers who were due refunds from overpayments.

Ms. Pappas tightened financial controls with new technology, new policies and new staff training. New computer systems are being used to begin integrating tax collections, bank deposits, earnings, tax distributions, refunds and other systems, which used to be logged manually under disparate sets of books. Ms. Pappas oversaw installation of a computer network, general ledger and cashiering system that averted Y2K threats. The integrated cashiering and general-ledger systems are geared so that taxing districts and taxpayers are closer-to-real-time access to payment data. Ms. Pappas' administration cleared a backlog of thousands of documents from six years of tax-refund records that had not been fully recorded. At the same time, the Pappas administration accelerated the flow of taxpayer refunds while reducing the average processing time.

Administratively, Ms. Pappas took several steps to benefit the taxpayers. She instituted cross-training of staff so that different sections of the office could shift with the ebb and flow of cyclical and seasonal activities. Computer training was provided to more than 100 employees who were eager to embrace new technology. The office went from 12 word processors to a modern network of 175 computers with plans to install software upgrades annually. Based on advice from taxpayers, Ms. Pappas overhauled the property tax bill to create a document that is easier for taxpayers to understand. The tax bill redesign won praise from newspaper editorial boards and diverse organizations such as the Civic Federation of Chicago and the suburban-based Northwest Tax Watch taxpayer-advocacy group, each calling the new document "more user friendly." Ms. Pappas ordered the first top-to-bottom outside audit of the Treasurer's office in a quarter century. Ms. Pappas asked the county board to employ an outside independent audit of the office annually. Subsequent annual audits have resulted in "unqualified" opinions and no findings of material weaknesses in the new systems of accounting and financial controls.

Ms. Pappas enacted the Office's first-ever investment policy with advice from business and banking professors from local universities. The policy requires open, competitive bidding among institutions that hold taxpayer dollars, while setting collateral standards to safeguard those funds. The policy also established the means for independent compliance reviews.

As a county commissioner, Ms. Pappas discovered the economic interests of Cook County and built a reputation for tracking funding and spending decisions. Ms. Pappas urged tax reductions that the board leadership later embraced. Ms. Pappas was one of the first and leading advocates of studies on teen pregnancy and its links to crime and other social ills.

Ms. Pappas' public career began after years of working as an attorney and an Adlerian psychologist. She taught psychology and led drug-abuse prevention programs in the Altgeld Gardens public housing complex for a decade. In those arenas, Ms. Pappas gained insight into the county's massive criminal-justice system (the largest in the world) and its public hospitals.

Ms. Pappas was born June 7, 1949, the granddaughter of Greek immigrants. She grew up in Warwood, a small town of about 2,000 near the small mining community of Wheeling, West Virginia, where her parents still reside. During Pappas' childhood, she was a steady honor-roll student and attended Greek school five nights a week. A music enthusiast, Ms. Pappas plays the piano. She is also known for twirling a baton in area parades and competing in triathlons. This year, she has also participated in the 500-mile Midwest AIDS Ride bicycle fund-raiser from Minneapolis to Chicago, the Cowalunga bicycle tour to benefit an American Lung Association camp for children with asthma, and the Ground Zero-to-Pentagon bicycle tour to benefit victims of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

As a child, Pappas and her brother John helped their parents, Ted and Irene, run family businesses. Their family ran a restaurant, toy store and floral shop adjacent to the area hospital. It was there Maria and her brother formed friendships with members of the medical community, ultimately influencing their careers in human services. John is a dentist in West Virginia.

Ms. Pappas completed her undergraduate degree at West Liberty State College in West Virginia in three years. She earned a master's degree in guidance and counseling at West Virginia University. After meeting Chicagoans while teaching psychology overseas, Ms. Pappas came to the City of Big Shoulders in 1972. Here, she opened a private psychology practice that specialized in individual and group therapy. Ms. Pappas earned a doctorate in counseling and psychology through Loyola University of Chicago in 1976, in addition to studying at the Alfred Adler Institute and teaching psychology in the United States, Israel and in eight European countries. In 1982, Ms. Pappas earned her law degree from the Kent School of Law at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago and began dual practices in psychological and legal counseling.

Ms. Pappas is married to Peter Kamberos, a successful Chicago attorney who served for a year as a judge in Cook County.

Find out more about Maria Pappas and all the Senate Candidates at