I went to a candidate forum Saturday at Saint Xavier University in Mount Greenwood expecting to hear from the two
seeking to represent the 3rd District in Congress.
, D-Western Springs, was a no-show. His challenger, Marie Newman of LaGrange, gave a presentation. Since Lipinski and Newman are both scheduled to appear at another forum this week, I’ll save my analysis of Newman’s remarks for a later column.
The League of Women Voters of Palos-Orland is sponsoring the forum featuring Lipinski and Newman at 7 p.m. Wednesday in Building M, Room 2, at Moraine Valley Community College, 9000 College Parkway, Palos Hills. The event is free, open to public and may be the only chance to hear both candidates speak on the same stage before the March 20 primary.
Organizers of Saturday’s forum said Lipinski declined their invitation to attend, send a representative or a statement. They said the same about
, the incumbent Cook County assessor facing a Democratic primary challenge.
Saturday’s forum was sponsored by Saint Xavier University’s history and political science departments, organized by residents of Chicago’s 19th Ward and moderated by Scott Smith, host of the South Side reading series podcast, “The Frunchroom.”
“The decisions made in these races are important,” Smith told the audience of about 50 people.
Berrios did not attend, but his challenger did. I thought the remarks by Fritz Kaegi about running against the Cook County Democratic machine resonated with the group.
“This race is about the fairness of the assessment system,” Kaegi said during his remarks. “Our current assessor, Joe Berrios, is not transparent, ethical or fair.”
I think south suburban residents should be especially concerned about whether the assessment system in Cook County is fair. The independent Civic Consulting Alliance said in a report released last Thursday that the county’s assessment system unfairly benefits wealthier residents at the expense of lower-income ones.
“A wealth transfer from owners of lower-value homes to those of higher-value homes” results from the error-ridden assessment system, the report concluded. The report, commissioned by Cook County Board President and Berrios ally Toni Preckwinkle, confirms the findings of year-long Chicago Tribune investigation.
The investigation and report found that owners of more expensive homes were more than twice as likely to appeal their assessments than owners of less-expensive properties.
“The way you judge how this office is doing is how it works for people who don’t appeal,” Kaegi told people Saturday at the Saint Xavier forum.
Cook County’s system has far more appeals than other assessment systems serving major metropolitan areas across the country, Kaegi said. If Cook County assessments were more fair and accurate in the first place, there wouldn’t be as many appeals, he said.
“Bringing the system into compliance with industry standards will require fundamental changes in modeling, review processes, data collection and a shift away from reliance on appeals,” the Civic Consulting Alliance report said.
Berrios has pushed back against findings that his office punishes low-income residents and rewards higher-income property owners. I reached out to his campaign to offer him the opportunity to respond to Kaegi’s comments.
“Assessor Berrios was unable to attend because he had a funeral,” spokeswoman Monica Trevino said in a statement. “Assessor Berrios has been working to fix the 40-year-old system that he inherited.
“His first priority was to ensure that the tax bills went out on time, which had not happened in the past 34 years. Getting out the tax bills out on time saves taxpayers millions of dollars. On-time tax bills ensure that school districts, municipalities and other taxing bodies receive revenue on schedule and thus do not have to borrow money to meet budget.
“Assessor Berrios is committed to making the assessment system more transparent and equitable for every Cook County resident.”
Berrios has been assessor since 2010. He’s also chairman of the Cook County Democratic Party. He may have the support of Chicago’s Democratic machine, but others say he hasn’t done enough during his eight years in office to address deficiencies in the system.
“Under Joe Berrios, wide swaths of the South Side, West Side and Southland have suffered greatly under a property tax assessment system that leads to tremendous inequity,” Kaegi said Thursday in a statement when the report was issued.
Kaegi is endorsed by the Chicago Tribune and Sun-Times; U.S. Reps.
, D-Chicago and
, D-Aurora; Cook County Clerk
; several Chicago alderman; and some state legislators and local officials, including Hazel Crest Mayor Vernard Alsberry.
“Berrios manipulates his office to help politically connected lawyers and their clients,” the Tribune said in its endorsement of Kaegi. “The tax appeal lawyers shower campaign money on Berrios. And now that the county Board of Ethics has fined Berrios $41,000 for failing to return to the attorneys contributions that exceeded legal limits, Berrios is challenging that penalty. Who’s paying for his lawyer? You are.”
Berrios is endorsed by Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White; U.S. Rep.
, D-Chicago; Preckwinkle and several Cook County Board commissioners, including
, D-Posen; numerous Democratic committeemen, including Bremen Township’s
; and several state legislators, including the retiring Al Riley, D-Olympia Fields, and state Senate President John Cullerton.
“A lot of people think this is Cook County, that nothing is going to change,” Kaegi said Saturday. “I refuse to believe that.”
Berrios has some heavyweight endorsements, plus the foot soldiers of the precincts and wards to help get out the vote. Not to mention campaign contributions for unions and legal firms that benefit from tax-assessment appeals.
Kaegi said Saturday he would not take campaign contributions from firms that appeal assessments.
“I don’t like how this system is infecting the rest of politics,” he said.
Kaegi said he wants to help move Illinois away from over-reliance on property taxes to fund public schools and other local services. He said he favors a progressive income tax, where people with higher incomes would pay a higher income tax rate than people with lower incomes.
Most other states that levy an income tax use a progressive system. Illinois is one of the few that has a flat tax.
Kaegi, a financial analyst and asset manager from Oak Park, said he can’t control what the
does about taxes. He said he would use his voice to support a system that is more fair to lower- and middle-income families.