Frederick "Fritz" Kaegi
Democratic candidate for Assessor
Responses to our questions
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On March 20, Cook County voters have a critically important choice in the race for Tax Assessor. As the Tribune has exposed in great detail, the current Assessor has created a flourishing pay-to-play environment that confers most of its benefits on downtown corporate property owners, all while pushing greater obligations onto outlying neighborhoods.
Cook County voters have every right to expect fairness and good stewardship from this office; I believe we can change it, delivering a major economic benefit to county residents and also improving our neighbors' confidence in the fairness of the whole property tax system. The Assessor's Office is a vital economic player in the region, determining how the $14 billion annual property tax bill is divided. We rely heavily on these taxes to finance key government services like education and healthcare. The tax one owes is supposed to be distributed based on the market price of one's home. But the system is not working the way it should.
The Assessor is generating shocking over-assessments of working people, especially those living in areas impacted by the housing crisis and foreclosures — particularly in communities of color. Wealth is being stripped from entire communities and the incumbent, our current Assessor, is responsible. As the Tribune has elucidated, the incumbent has created an ethical cloud over the office, given that law firms specializing in assessment appeals (and practicing before his office) provide the majority of his campaign contributions. Numerous investigative reports by the Tribune and other outlets have detailed Assessor Berrios heavy reliance on nepotism, political favoritism, and political discrimination.
Voters know that the current Assessor's priorities remain hiring relatives and political associates in key technical operational roles, taking care of his campaign contributors, and spending his spare time lobbying in Springfield for industries like video poker and liquor distributors. As Assessor, I would be committed to making this office ethical, transparent, and fair. This would produce a significant economic gain for county residents, and increase their confidence in the fairness of the property tax system that finances our government.
Opportunities to achieve such an economic change without needing major new legislation from Springfield or City Hall are rare in politics. A change in leadership is needed. In this race, voters have the opportunity to deliver change directly at the ballot box at a time when the working class needs help. For the Cook County residents who are tired of corruption, patronage hiring and subsidizing the wealthy and politically connected, I offer my candidacy as a viable alternative. I'm a native Chicagoan from the South Side, a Chicago Public Schools graduate, and I now live in Oak Park. My community involvement demonstrates a deep commitment to fighting the cycle of poverty. I have a long track record as a progressive volunteer and backer of up-and-coming Democratic congressional candidates in close races.
I have spent my professional career as a financial analyst and portfolio manager dedicated to valuing assets and responsible financial stewardship for average families seeking to save for retirement, home ownership or sending their children to college. In addition to being a Chartered Financial Analyst, I received the Certified Illinois Assessment Officer (CIAO) designation to help deepen my understanding of the assessment system here in Illinois. The CIAO designation is one that most, if not, all assessors in the state are mandated to receive, with the exception of our current Assessor. We'll make the property tax assessment system fairer by using a better model (which already exists) that produces less regressive outcomes.
This model more accurately measures current market prices and results in more uniformity of rates, regardless of neighborhood and home price. We'll make sure that our assessment system takes into account the effect of foreclosures, underwater mortgages, short sales, and neighborhood vacancies on property values. The current system overassesses neighborhoods where these factors are prevalent. Together, these changes will produce substantial gains in equity, and create more confidence in the fairness of the property tax system that finances crucial investments in public education, health care, infrastructure, and community improvements.
Property taxes are a regressive way for government to finance itself. It is inherently inequitable for local property prices to determine spending on education and other public goods. I will be a strong advocate for progressive income taxation, plus equitable sharing of these revenues with municipalities and school districts, to finance government in a less regressive way.
The Assessor does not have power to legislate change on these issues, but we can forcefully testify to the need for that change. Our campaign's commitment to deliver ethical, transparent and fair assessments resonates broadly. We have received support from a wide range of elected officials, including Congressman Danny K. Davis, Congresswoman Robin Kelly, Congressman Bill Foster, Cook County Clerk David Orr, Cook County Board Commissioner Jesus "Chuy" Garcia and Chicago City Council Progressive Reform Caucus Chair Ald. Scott Waguespack (32).
We are also getting enthusiastic support from volunteers around the county. The people of Cook County deserve an Assessor who will value all the property in a fair, ethical, and transparent manner. I have spent my whole career valuing assets and being a financial steward.
I will not take donations from lawyers that have business with the assessor's office. The Cook County Assessor's Office needs new leadership that can be fair and uncorrupted and will make assessments transparently.