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Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Assessor contributes $100K in fight with tax appeal commissioner

Cook County Assessor Fritz Kaegi has supercharged a new super PAC with a $100,000 infusion, an apparent escalation in his fight against an adversary on the county’s Board of Review.

Kaegi personally loaned $100,000 on Jan. 29 to the Stop Tax Corruption Cook County independent expenditure committee, which was registered with the state on Jan 19. An email to the committee went unreturned, but its stated purpose is “to stop tax corruption in Cook County,” according to its state filings. It has yet to report any spending. Kaegi is so far the PAC’s only donor.

Super PACs, known in Illinois as independent expenditure committees, can raise and spend unlimited funds to support or oppose candidates or issues. They cannot donate directly to candidates or coordinate with the candidate or campaign they are supporting.

But the fund seems to run parallel to Kaegi’s efforts to oust incumbent Board of Review Commissioner Larry Rogers Jr. in the March 19 Democratic primary. Kaegi, his campaign fund and family have recently donated more than $28,000 in cash and in-kind campaign help to Larecia Tucker, a real estate broker and clerk in the Rich Township assessor’s officer running against Rogers.

In a text message to the Tribune, Rogers described the assessor’s involvement in the race as “the epitome of a conflict of interest.”

“The Board of Review has been the last resort to save taxpayers from Assessor Kaegi’s unsupported assessments and excessive taxation and now he wants to hand pick the Commissioner that reviews his work,” Rogers said.

“Assessor Kaegi is using this young Black woman as if he decides who should be elected to serve as the Black community’s elected Commissioner,” Rogers’ statement continued. The board’s third district stretches from downtown Chicago westward to Bellwood, and also covers the majority of the city’s South Side and suburbs south of city limits.

In an emailed statement from his spokesman Tuesday, Kaegi did not address questions about the size of the outlay or Rogers’ comments, but said the board has for decades “operated behind closed doors, granting tax breaks to powerful insiders and corporate developers like Donald Trump — and the rest of us pay for it through higher property taxes.”

“Despite recommendations from the Inspector General to reform its operations and ethics, some commissioners from the Board of Review continue to receive the overwhelming majority of donations from the property tax lawyers that appeal some of the largest properties in the County at the Board of Review. It’s past time for the Board to operate with integrity, honesty, and transparency,” the statement said.

Kaegi told the Tribune in a December statement that Tucker “understands the needs of the district,” as a lifelong resident of the Southland.

Tucker has pledged not to accept donations from property tax attorneys who do business at the board, and said she would work to ensure board meetings “are broadcast live and that recordings are available on demand” to residents.

The assessor’s involvement is a reversal from past elections, when he declined to meddle in any contests at the Board of Review, a three-member panel that considers appeals to property assessments made in Kaegi’s office. Property owners typically appeal to the board to knock down their assessment, and in turn, their property tax bill.

Cook County Clerk Karen Yarbrough, 2nd from left, speaks with other party members including Larry Rogers Jr., right, during a pre-slating event for the Democratic Party on June 16, 2023, in Chicago. (Stacey Wescott/Chicago Tribune)
Cook County Clerk Karen Yarbrough, second from left, speaks with other party members including Larry Rogers Jr., right, during a pre-slating event for the Democratic Party on June 16, 2023, in Chicago. (Stacey Wescott/Chicago Tribune)

Kaegi and Rogers — the board’s most senior member — have frequently butted heads on the accuracy of each other’s property valuations. Kaegi has blamed the board, at times, for canceling out assessments that would have shifted the burden over to commercial property owners. Rogers, meanwhile, previously described Kaegi’s assessments as “crushing and inaccurate” and blamed him for the county’s late property tax bill saga. Rogers has more recently questioned Kaegi’s valuation of the Arlington Heights site purchased by the Chicago Bears.

Kaegi was elected to a second term in 2022. A former mutual fund asset manager, he was able to self-fund both of his campaigns, loaning his Friends of Fritz committee more than $4 million since 2017.

Kaegi’s single donation to the super PAC eclipses the $85,000 Tucker has raised since launching her Board of Review bid and is roughly equivalent to what Rogers has raised in the last six months.

Rogers has served on the board since 2004. He is also a trial attorney and equity partner at Power Rogers LLP, largely working in personal injury and wrongful death cases around the county and the country, including several high-profile police brutality and civil rights suits.

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