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You, the voter, upset a foul cart of corruption in the county assessor’s office

Fritz Kaegi | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

You did it.

You voted down the worst remaining outrage of Chicago machine politics. You voted for an end to the unholy trinity of politicians, lobbyists and property tax lawyers. You voted for fairness in taxation — for yourself and for your neighbors.

A strong plurality of you, if you cast a ballot in the Democratic primary in Cook County, voted for an Oak Park reformer, Frederick “Fritz” Kaegi, for county assessor and — more to the point — against the utterly compromised party-backed incumbent, Joe Berrios.

Well, heck, good for you. Let this be the new Chicago way.

Kaegi’s victory — and we must emphasize this — is not entirely secure. A bone-headed mistake by the Chicago Board of Elections led some judges to incorrectly tell voters that a third person whose name was on the ballot — Andrea Raila — was not a legal candidate. In fact, she was.

We can only hope that this sad, but apparently limited, goof-up does not threaten the validity of Kaegi’s victory.

EDITORIAL

Of all the big and fascinating races on Tuesday, none commanded our attention more than the Democratic primary for assessor. In Cook County, the Democratic primary is often the only election that matters (the Republicans have yet to even slate an assessor candidate for November) and no other race offered such a clear choice between good government and bad government. No other race, for that matter, put your wallet so directly on the line.

For years under Assessor Berrios, property tax assessments have favored the wealthy and the politically connected over the average homeowner and the working poor. Major studies from impeccably credible sources, including the University of Chicago’s Center for Municipal Finance, have documented how the assessor’s office has massively undertaxed the most valuable homes in Chicago, shifting the cost to everybody else’s homes.

Making matters worse, Berrios seems to pull assessments out of thin air, based on nothing that anybody can nail down, explain or justify. This has made property tax lawyers rich, as they file appeal after appeal for their wealthy clients. When nothing is nailed down, everything becomes negotiable.

And then, to keep the game going, the lawyers fund Berrios’ political campaigns.

Kaegi is running for assessor on a promise to end all that — and to end Berrios’ practice of hiring relatives — and he is well positioned to make good on that promise. Because he is independently wealthy and supported by a broad coalition of reform groups, he has not needed to go to the Democratic Party hat in hand. Mike Madigan, that is to say, apparently can’t make or break him.

But you know all this. Which is why Berrios lost on Tuesday. Which is why you upended a foul cart of corruption.

You did it.

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