With progressive Democrats on the march from Springfield to City Hall, this is not the moment for business to split its forces or political wallet. But there’s always time to take care of No. 1, I guess. Which leads to a story about how retiring Illinois Manufacturers’ Association CEO Greg Baise is going out with a bang, dropping a ton of association cash on what appears to be a long-shot race to unseat an incumbent whom other business groups strongly support.
The incumbent is Lakeview Ald. Tom Tunney, a small-business man—he owns Ann Sather’s restaurants—who is solidly progressive on most issues but who understands what it takes to meet payroll and fend off excessive government mandates. Also involved: the Chicago Cubs-owning Ricketts clan, which, as I’ve recently reported, has bankrolled a dark-money group that’s been bashing Tunney because he balked at giving the family all the zoning perks it wanted at Wrigley Field.
Here’s the story. Most business leaders endorse Tunney. The Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce is backing him for a new term as “a small-business champion and an independent voice on the City Council,” says Senior Vice President Mike Reever. “He continues to fight for pro-growth initiatives.” The Illinois Retail Merchants Association is for him, too. “We have not typically endorsed anyone outside of races for governor,” says CEO Robb Karr. But he goes on: “We are supporting Ald. Tunney. He’s taken a reasonable approach.” Likely to join them soon is the Illinois Restaurant Association, whose board Tunney once chaired.
You’ll get a much different take on Tunney, however, if you surf the web or live in the 44th Ward. There you’ll see what so far is $51,000 in paid internet ads and flyers accusing him of securing personal property tax cuts by “hand(ing) over campaign cash to Joe Berrios,” whom Democrats in the March primary fired as Cook County assessor. The ads are funded by Jobs PAC, an independent group affiliated with the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association. The PAC’s treasurer is none other than Baise, who is stepping down at year-end from the IMA but still runs Jobs PAC.
Baise is normally loquacious, but he was downright taciturn when asked about his Jobs PAC work, mumbling something about “friends” before ending our conversation. A couple of days later, a spokesman—when did Greg Baise ever need a spokesman?—said the IMA is involved because “high property taxes and the continued increase in property taxes has been a major issue for manufacturers.”
To back up his point, Baise forwarded me copies of tax records for Tunney’s restaurant at 909 W. Belmont Ave. and adjoining property at 915-925 W. Belmont. They indicate that the properties are valued at only a little more than they were a decade ago, despite fast-rising prices in that part of the city. Tunney’s spokesman confirms that and concedes that total taxes paid rose very modestly between 2008 and 2018, from $105,457.38 to $115,163.22. Beyond that, county records indicate Tunney repeatedly has appealed assessments on his property, including this year.
On the other hand, the Sathers’ buildings are 110 years old and have big vacancies. (The nearby four-story Belmont Army store just closed and is for rent.) And the assessment rate was cut as often by the Cook County Board of Review as it was by assessors—and not only Berrios, by the way, but predecessor Jim Houlihan. And Tunney’s contributions to Berrios? Records indicate neither he nor his 44th Ward Organization has donated a penny, only to the Berrios-headed Cook County Democratic Party, like other ward groups.
I’m not sure if there’s a there there. But I do know that, while Baise is leaving the IMA, he’ll continue to run Xpress Professional Services, its for-profit political consulting affiliate, which just happens to be producing those flyers and internet ads for the anti-Tunney forces. I also know that, if you’re a political consultant out to make a buck, you want to be pals with people like the Ricketts family, even if that means taking advantage of your soon-to-be former employer.
Incoming IMA President Mark Denzler says the Ricketts family and Cubs aren’t even members of his group and refers questions to Baise. Yet its independent expenditure committee is involved big-time in a feud with a business-allied incumbent in a local race. Isn’t that interesting?
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October 12, 2018 at 02:16PM