Why Fritz Kaegi won’t deploy his endorsement—or his wallet—in these key races

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fritz kaegi

Cook County Assessor Fritz Kaegi isn’t shy in his criticism of the Board of Review, a three member quasi-judicial body that hears appeals to his property tax assessments. They disagree with Kaegi’s conclusions to what he says is a surprising degree compared to other jurisdictions. 

“It has been a surprise to me the amount of revisions that we have seen. I’ve talked to my peers around the country. There’s no analogous situation in another part of the country for other levels of appeals to change the property tax base so much after the assessor’s office,” he says in the latest episode of A.D. Q&A, the Tuesday podcast edition of Crain’s Juice newsletter on power and politics. “It’s pretty unusual.”

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Get up to speed: 

Will this study silence Kaegi’s critics? Don’t count on it.

Are Fritz Kaegi’s assessments too high or too low?

Kaegi won as a reformer. Can he get re-elected on his record?

It’s not just those revisions; the incumbent assessor suggests his own office does a better job explaining its methods and data, and cutting off conflicts that plagued predecessor Joe Berrios’ office. 

Asked whether board members are in thrall to property tax attorneys, Kaegi said, “I don’t know. I think you’d have to ask them,” but went on to describe where they could beef up ethics rules to do away with a “perception that some people have special access or special influence over the valuation process,” including barring political donations from those attorneys and anonymizing appeals for commercial properties so that analysts aren’t influenced by the identities of lawyers. 

But in an election season when Kaegi could put his endorsement—and his wallet—behind like-minded candidates to replace Board of Review commissioners he disagrees with in the 2022 election, Kaegi’s opting out. He didn’t endorse in 2020, when his former policy chief, Abdelnasser Rashid, ran to unseat Republican Board of Review  Commissioner Dan Patlak. (Rashid lost in the primary to Democrat Tammy Wendt.) Nor will he endorse this cycle, as a former member of his transition team, Samantha Steele (who also worked briefly as Kaegi’s director of commercial valuations) embarks on a run against incumbent Board of Review Commissioner Michael Cabonargi. 

“I don’t think it’s right for the assessor to be picking commissioners. . . .It’s important that they be an independent view of what we’re looking at,” Kaegi says. Instead, he’s honoring Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle’s request to chip in on a working group focused on what underlying data and methods both offices are using, and analyzing where assessments are landing compared to actual property sales. Kaegi says this groups has shown “encouraging early progress.” 

Kaegi has his own re-election to worry about: Kari Steele (no relation to Samantha) has racked up endorsements from building trade unions. They are aligned with some large building owner groups critical of the impact of recent assessments on the commercial climate. Any reduction in construction in the county is bad for them both. He also discusses whether he’s gotten better at politics since riding into office as a reformer, his next moves in Springfield, and whether his decision to adjust valuations during the COVID pandemic will prove to be a political gamble he’ll live to regret. 

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via Crain’s Chicago Business

December 14, 2021 at 08:17AM

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