Chris Kennedy got into the Illinois gubernatorial race early, but lately, the multimillionaire businessman has been overshadowed in the Democratic primary by J.B. Pritzker, the billionaire businessman. Pritzker has been plowing heavy cash into campaign commercials.
And Pritzker’s supporters are peddling the presumption that Democrats need a billionaire nominee if they hope to prevail against the billionaire incumbent, Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner.
Meanwhile, Kennedy has been dogged by the suggestions that he lacks staying power, questions about his campaign spending, and chuckles about his strategic stumbles.
Last week, in a half hour speech at the Harold Washington Cultural Center, Kennedy broke through the noise.
He offered a provocative and powerful call to end a “corrupt” property tax “racket” before it kills our economy. Kennedy pledged to make “radical change” of the property tax system the heart of his campaign.
The system, he says, allows property tax lawyers and their clout-heavy friends to game the system, to benefit the rich at the expense of the poor and middle class.
Powerful elected officials (cue Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan) profit handsomely in their second jobs as tax lawyers, Kennedy says.
In turn, they make generous political contributions to tax assessors throughout the state (cue Cook County Assessor Joe Berrios) to keep the gravy train rolling, Kennedy charges.
“It is the source of their wealth. They are financially incentivized to preserve a rigged system. We must end the unfairness of a regressive system that protects the powerful and hurts everybody else,” Kennedy declared.
He wants to outlaw those practices. He wants to ban assessors statewide from party leadership positions (cue Berrios, also chairman of the Cook County Democratic Party).
Kennedy’s call to action earned abundant “Amens” from the several hundred people who packed the cramped space. The audience was a mix of the elderly African-Americans and whites and fresh-faced campaign staff and volunteers.
While the rhetoric resonated, I suspect their eyes glazed over the details. The property tax system is extremely complex.
But Kennedy has dug in. I have seen his research. The analysis, compiled in stacks of spreadsheets, compares published property sale prices, and assessed values in Chicago and the suburbs.
The data show that lower-value properties in minority neighborhoods like Pullman are assessed at higher rates than more expensive homes in white areas, like Lincoln Park.
It’s an unofficial, but compelling study.
In Chicago, it could mean less money than ever for police officers, schools, violence prevention, and just about any other comfort to struggling neighborhoods.
“Gun violence persists because of the reliance on property taxes,” Kennedy declared. “Its communities, plagued with the surge of gun violence, are so overtaxed to pay for their schools that they’ve had to cut the number of police officers in order to keep the property tax rates from going even higher.”
Illinois’ property tax system is highly complex and highly illogical. It’s designed that way.
Madigan and Berrios have dismissed Kennedy’s attacks, saying what they do is legal and proper.
Kennedy’s critics note in the past, he cozied up to Madigan and the other political insiders he now criticizes. They sneer he is just another rich guy, and that his own company has profited from the tax appeals “racket.”
Can they refute Kennedy’s analysis? Bring it on.
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