The Cook County assessor’s race might seem like it’s already over.
No TV ads. No debates. No fliers jamming mailboxes — the county’s Democrats made no mention of Frederick “Fritz” Kaegi on the party’ sample ballot of endorsed candidates that went out last week.
And the Republican candidate is so far below the radar that he doesn’t even return reporters’ telephone calls or emails.
But voters still must decide between Kaegi and his GOP opponent, Joseph Paglia, in next Tuesday’s election.
Kaegi is confident of victory.
“There’s pretty much been no rest since the primary,” Kaegi said. “Our days have been filled with meetings oriented toward transition. … We have to build trust among people who live in Cook County in the system.”
The financial manager and Oak Park resident is so confident, he’s already preparing to implement changes at the office, calling it a “slow grind” that entails improving the data on residential and commercial properties to create better assessments long term.
It’s a far cry from the primary, in which Kaegi made headlines beating longtime incumbent, and former chairman of the county Democrats, Joe Berrios.
“We have a tremendous amount of work ahead of us,” Kaegi said. “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.”
Kaegi’s win in March came after a series of articles by the Chicago Tribune and ProPublica found that 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 the article.
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.
Berrios’ defeat created a power vacuum in the county party that allowed County Board President — and Berrios ally — Toni Preckwinkle to ascend to the party’s top spot. That political move may have resulted in Kaegi being left off a sample ballot that was mailed out.
Kaegi says he and Preckwinkle “see eye to eye” and, because he wasn’t a slated candidate in the primary, he didn’t appear on the party’s sample ballot, a policy he was told will be changed.
As long as he contributes to the cost of the second mailer, his name will appear, Kaegi says.
His focus has remained on the “profound problems” within the office that will require “reconstructing the data that we have, building new models, and doing a complete ethical transformation.”
To do that, he’s enlisted the help of Sarah Garza Resnick, chief of staff for retiring Cook County Clerk David Orr, as well as others from the clerk’s office. He’s also sought some help on the technological front from Berrios’ office — there’s been “zero follow through” on the requests from the assessor’s office.
If elected, Kaegi will open up the data and, once his office begins assessing properties, the code used to calculate those assessments will be posted on Github. Kaegi says they’ll host workshops to help people, and third parties, understand their assessments.
“Changing people’s behaviors, so they have more trust in the numbers that we’re producing, is very important but it’ll take time and it’ll have to be earned,” Kaegi said. “We have to earn it through transparency, through showing there’s a complete ethical restructuring of the office and ‘hey, there’s better data, they’re doing it more accurately.’ … It just takes time to change people’s perception.”
Paglia did not respond to repeated requests from a Chicago Sun-Times reporter or separate inquiries from members of the newspaper’s Editorial Board, seeking information about his plans.