Kaegi coasts to victory in race for Cook County assessor

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Fritz Kaegi takes in his primary victory over Joe Berrios on March 20. | Max Herman/For the Sun-Times

Democrat Frederick “Fritz” Kaegi coasted to victory Tuesday night, becoming the next Cook County assessor.

With roughly 93 percent of the 3,668 precincts reporting, Kaegi had about 76 percent of the vote, easily beating Republican Joseph Paglia.

Kaegi said his focus has remained on the “profound problems” that plague the office and called the early results “terrific.”

“We feel very good about the results that we’re seeing, and we think this is a powerful mandate from the voters of Cook County to make the property tax system more ethical, transparent and fair,” Kaegi said about an hour after polls had closed.

In a concession statement, Paglia said it was his honor to give Republican voters in the county “a choice and [an] option.” He also congratulated Kaegi.

“I wish Assessor Kaegi much success,” Paglia’s statement read. “It was refreshing to see a clean race without any negative attacks or insults. Fritz ran a clean race, I appreciate and respect that.”

The November election was a change from the harried pace and ad-loaded lead up to the March primary that ended in Kaegi defeating incumbent and county Democratic Party boss Joe Berrios. Kaegi donated a little over $1.9 million to his own campaign, with most of that money pouring in during the primary.

Kaegi’s win in March came after a series of articles by the Chicago Tribune and ProPublica found the county’s assessment system transfers wealth from lower income homeowners —  typically on the South and West sides — to homeowners of higher incomes — typically on the North Side. Berrios disputed the facts in those articles.

In February, a review of the assessment system by the Civic Consulting Alliance mirrored the series’ conclusions, finding that the assessment process is “more variable and more regressive” compared to industry standards.

Already focused on a transition into the office, Kaegi will get to put his transition plans into action — that entails making the office more transparent, ethical and fair.

“We have a tremendous amount of work ahead of us,” Kaegi told the Sun-Times last week. “We feel the urgency because we know every year that this system is not reformed is another year of unfair assessments — that is the legacy of what we have today.”

Among the changes coming, the Oak Park resident and financial manager said the assessor’s office will be “reconstructing the data that we have, building new models and doing a complete ethical transformation,” which will include a written ethics policy addressing conflicts of interest, limits on gifts and entertaining, and other measures to “increase confidence” in the office.

Implementing changes in the county assessor’s office could still be a “slow grind” that entails improving the data on residential and commercial properties to create better assessments long term, he previously told the Sun-Times.

Kaegi’s win now means he’ll work closely with Cook County Board President — and chair of the county’s Democratic Party — Toni Preckwinkle, who took over the party post after Berrios’ defeat in March. The party left Kaegi off its sample ballot that came out just a few weeks before the election, though Kaegi says he sees “eye to eye” with Preckwinkle and it was a simple mistake that was rectified with the second sample ballot mailed out last week.

The race for assessor was the major countywide office under contest. Board President Preckwinkle, Sheriff Tom Dart and Treasurer Maria Pappas were all re-elected Tuesday night. Karen Yarbrough, the county’s recorder of deeds, was elected to replace retiring David Orr as the Cook County clerk.

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