Sunday, March 4, 2018 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews || Updated: 3/5/18
Featured image: Fritz Kaegi, center, with Dennis Moran, the owner of Kathy’s Cafe, and Commissioner Richard Boykin, before a March 4 press conference inside of the Maywood restaurant that was organized by Larry Shapiro, far left. | VFP
Fritz Kaegi, a candidate running in the March 20 Democratic Primary for Cook County Assessor, was in Maywood on March 4 for a press conference held at Kathy’s Cafe, 1008 S. 17th Ave. — just across the street from the headquarters of the Proviso Township Democratic Organization.
Kaegi was flanked by U.S. Rep. Danny K. Davis (7th) and Cook County Commissioner Richard Boykin (1st), both of whom are supporting the assessor candidate.
Boykin and Davis said that other west suburban mayors, such as Broadview Mayor Katrina Thompson and Oak Park mayor Anan Abu-Taleb, who were absent, are also supporting Kaegi — a mutual funds asset manager who lives in Oak Park.
Kaegi’s supporters based their collective endorsement on what they described as the county’s unfair tax assessment system — one that prioritizes properties in wealthy areas like Downtown Chicago over properties like Kathy’s Cafe in Maywood.
“We decided as a group this morning that we wanted to reaffirm our interest and concern about taxation of our real estate properties in Cook County and we believe, unequivocally and without a doubt, that the present system is broken,” said Davis.
“Every study that has been done, every newspaper that has written articles about it … have all expressed concern that our assessment system is broken,” he said, “and is shifting resources from one population group in our county to another.”
Davis’ assessment was both an indictment on the system and on the incumbent assessor, Joe Berrios, who also chairs the Cook County Democratic Party.
“As a member of the county board, it is important that our citizens have confidence in government,” Boykin said, “confidence in the fact that our assessment system is a fair system and that people in poor zip codes aren’t paying more than they should be paying … I don’t have confidence that Berrios will fix this system.”
Davis and Boykin both brought attention to a series of investigative articles published last June by the Chicago Tribune that showed that “for years the county’s property tax system created an unequal burden on residents, handing huge financial breaks to homeowners who are well-off while punishing those who have the least, particularly people living in minority communities.”
Part four of that series, published last December and produced in collaboration with ProPublica Illinois, concluded that Berrios “failed” at “estimating the value of commercial and industrial properties.
Danny K. Davis announcing on Sunday that the mayors of Bellwood and Broadview have endorsed Keagi. | VFP
According to the analysis, “commercial and industrial property assessments throughout Cook County were so riddled with errors that they created deep inequities, punishing small businesses while cutting a break to owners of high-value properties and helping fuel a cottage industry of politically powerful tax attorneys.”
Berrios and some of his supporters, such as Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, have not disputed those findings, which were bolstered by an analysis of the county’s property tax system by the Civic Consulting Alliance.
That analysis was commissioned last July by Preckwinkle and Berrios in the wake of the Chicago Tribune/ProPublica reports.
Echoing the Tribune’s assessment, CCA “found that the residential assessment system is more variable and more regressive than agreed upon industry standards, causing a wealth transfer from owners of lower-value homes to those of higher-value homes.”
For their part, Berrios and Preckwinkle have argued that the property tax system’s inequitable assessment system is 40 years in the making and are caused by forces larger than the incumbent.
During a meeting on March 1 with suburban Cook County newspaper publishers, Preckwinkle lauded Berrios’ performance as Cook County Democratic Party chair, arguing that Berrios diversified the county party during his chairmanship, opening pathways to positions that had once been closed to minorities.
Preckwinkle also lauded some of Berrios’ successes over the course of his two terms in office, such as the fact that property tax bills have been completed on time for six consecutive years.
Berrios has argued that some fundamental changes to the county’s tax system may require state legislation.
During the Sunday afternoon press conference, Kaegi mentioned some of the main points in the CCA and Tribune/ProPublica analyses while offering his own solutions to the problems, many of which he said can be fixed without state legislation.
“The reporting by the Tribune last December showed that two-thirds of the commercial industrial assessments in Cook County haven’t been changed by a single dollar since Joe Berrios became assessor in 2010, even though we’ve had seismic changes in retail and real estate,” Kaegi said.
“This is a real dereliction of duty that hurts small businesses like this one and really impacts Maywood,” he added. “When we have small businesses that can’t hit their numbers when they’re overassessed and end up closing down, those properties go vacant and it hurts all the neighboring business. It also hurts the sale tax base.”
Kaegi said that he intends to use current market transactions to more appropriately value downtown properties and will implement a new model “so that the tax rate is uniform in every neighborhood, regardless of whether its a $20,000 home or a $200,000 home.”
Kaegi added that, currently, the assessor’s office doesn’t take into account the affect of foreclosures, short sales and underwater mortgages on home prices.
“That’s one of the reason why neighborhoods like Maywood are overassessed,” he said. “If you’re not looking at foreclosures or short sales, you’re getting it wrong.”
Kaegi, who Berrios has criticized for his financial sector ties, was blunt in his general characterization of the system presided over by the incumbent, calling it a “textbook example of structural racism where black neighborhoods are paying the highest rates. That’s absolutely unacceptable.”
So far, Kaegi’s message seems to be resonating with residents, with at least one poll released last month putting him up by double digits over Berrios. Kaegi’s lead dwindles sharply when a third candidate, Andrea Raila, is included.
An electoral board invalidated her candidacy last month because her nominating petitions showed a pattern of fraud, according to the board’s ruling, which a Cook County judge later upheld.
The decision, however, was not made in time enough to physically remove Raila’s name from printed ballots and electronic voting machines. Kaegi said that he doesn’t “think it will make a significant difference.”
“Votes for this candidate will not be counted,” Kaegi said. “The circuit court has reiterated the unanimous decision of the election board. People will receive notification that votes for this person will not be counted.”
Still, the number of undecideds in those polls is large enough, and the presence of Raila’s name a significant enough factor (according to some political observers) that the race, at this point, might reasonably be characterized as a tossup.
Broadview resident Climent Redmond Sr. is one of those undecided voters. Redmond watched Sunday’s press conference from a booth near a window inside of Kathy’s that offered an unfettered view of blighted sidewalks and a vacant lot.
While his mind wasn’t made up, the longtime property owner was vocal about his opinion of political incumbents.
“Some of the people in those offices need to get out,” Redmond said, without specifying any office in particular.
Maywood resident Carrol McFarland, who stood near the booth conversing with Redmond, was vocal in his support of Kaegi.
“They’ve known about the broken system and they wouldn’t fix it,” McFarland said, referencing Berrios and Preckwinkle. “Now that the survey is out, they want to fix it? Why not fix it before? They knew it all the time.
“If you vote for the same old people, you’re going to get the same old results,” he said, “so I’m going to give somebody else a chance to fix it.” VFP
For more local news, ‘Like’ our Facebook page