RACE: Cook County Assessor

About the Candidate

Name: Fritz Kaegi
Occupation: Cook County Assessor
Political Experience: Elected Cook County Assessor in 2018
Website: www.fritzforassessor.com
Twitter: @fritzforassessor
Facebook: Fritz Kaegi for Cook County Assessor

Candidate Statement

Hi, I’m Fritz Kaegi, your Cook County Assessor. I’m running for re-election in the June 28 Democratic primary. 

Since defeating former assessor Joe Berrios in 2018, I have worked tirelessly to fix our broken property tax system and bring equity and transparency to everyone in the county. 

I’ve taken on a system that had been rigged in favor of large, wealthy corporations and political insiders for far too long. That old, corrupt system left working and middle-class families and small businesses unfairly paying a much higher tax burden.  

Under my leadership, the Assessor’s Office is leading with fairness, not favoritism. Now is not the time to go back to the way things used to be.

As a lifelong progressive Democrat, I have always supported grassroots causes. I am proud to have built a diverse coalition for our campaign, including Senator Tammy Duckworth, Congressmembers Chuy Garcia and Robin Kelly, and grassroots groups like United Working Families and Citizen Action Illinois. Together, we’re building a movement to make sure we can keep up the fight for fairness and equity in our property tax system.

We’ve implemented pretty big changes to benefit taxpayers like you. In 2021, most Chicagoans saw a decrease in their property tax bill for the first time in nearly a decade. And now, instead of having to reapply every year, we’ve made sure the senior citizens’ exemption is now automatically renewed. 

I’m also proud that, together with fellow Democrats, we launched the Affordable Housing Special Assessment Program to incentivize building more affordable housing–something that is sorely needed here. 

Our Assessor’s Office is award winning, for the first time in living memory. In 2021, the International Association of Assessing Officers gave us an award for outstanding public outreach during the pandemic. 

There’s so much more to do. Together, we can build on these achievements and make even more progress for working families and small businesses. To learn more, please visit our website. I hope I can count on your support on June 28.

Candidate Q&A

Why are you running?

As a Democrat, I am running to continue reforming our unfair tax system and bring equity, fairness, transparency to the system that previous Assessor Joe Berrios rigged in favor of large, wealthy corporations and the politically connected. That left working and middle-class families carrying a higher burden, and robbed our local school districts of needed revenue.

In less than four years, I have expanded protections for seniors, veterans and disabled residents. Under my leadership, in 2021, most Chicago residents saw a decrease in their property taxes after 20 years of increases under previous assessors. In my second term, I intend to build on these successes and make the system fair for everyone in Cook County, by ensuring the very wealthy, big corporations and political insiders pay their fair share.

What does this office do well, and what needs fixing?

Because we have made assessments fairer, we ensured that tax bills for most Chicagoans fell last year, halting a 20-year trend under previous assessors where the median homeowner’s bill grew 4% per year, faster than the annual growth (3%) in commercial. This is a great result of our approach to fairer assessments, given that Chicago raised its tax levy.

Across the County as a whole, we kept median residential bill increases to just +1% for the second straight year. This was well below the annual trend for the last 20 years. We are now an award-winning public office in the areas of customer service. We’ve made it easier to access property tax exemptions. And we’ve helped expand affordable housing.

The International Association of Assessing Officers—the gold standard in our field—recently published a study showing that our reassessment of the north suburbs met industry standards for accuracy, equity, and uniformity for the first time in memory. Our office created a new, easier-to-use, online appeals process, now processing hundreds of thousands of cases per year; and created an online exemption application process;

Our office still needs to expand the data sources it uses for residential and commercial assessments. We are working in partnership with other assessing offices around the country and the White House to open up the universal appraisal dataset, which would give us better data on residential homes. We are also supporting a bill in Springfield that will expand the commercial property data available to our office, helping to make our assessments fairer and more accurate.

What is the most pressing issue facing your constituents and how do you plan on addressing it?

The most pressing issue my constituents currently face is ensuring they are only paying their fair share of property taxes. As Assessor, I have worked tirelessly to make assessments fair, transparent and accurate for everyone. That has meant doing the work to fix a broken and unfair property tax system that favored the very wealthy, big corporations, and politically connected insiders under the previous administration. Under previous Assessor Joe Berrios, many residential property owners carried more of the burden of taxes due to his significant underassessment of large commercial properties.

By making sure the very wealthy and big corporations are now paying their fair share, we’ve been able to ease the property tax burden on regular homeowners who no longer have to foot the bill when the politically connected get unfair tax breaks.

In fact, the average tax increase for homeowners in Cook County who have had their properties reassessed in recent years was just 1%.

With the bold, corrective actions taken by my administration, future assessments will be more predictable and gradual, based on annual increases in real estate market prices. The Assessor’s Office now assesses more accurately than in the past, according to an independent study by the IAAO of the 2019 assessments.

What specific steps would you take to ensure your office is accessible and responsive to your constituents?

Throughout the year, my staff and I attend some 200 events for community groups and business leaders to explain our assessments and answer questions directly from homeowners and business owners. We also created brochures on appeals and exemptions in Spanish, Polish, Chinese, Tagalog, and Arabic.

I’ve continued to make the Assessor’s Office more accessible and easy to use, which reduces taxes for the average person. In 2020, we launched a full suite of tools to let taxpayers apply for all appeals and exemptions online. Our office won an award for these tools from the National Association of Counties.

I worked with Springfield to make the senior citizen exemption auto-renew permanent, so that senior citizens don’t need to go through the trouble of reapplying for their exemption year after year. In addition, we have ensured that the senior freeze exemption, persons with disabilities exemption, and veterans with disabilities exemption auto-renewed. Through these changes, we ensured our most vulnerable residents got the property tax savings they deserve and need.

My administration also worked with progressive lawmakers to pass a crucial affordable housing bill which will encourage the construction of more affordable housing and allow for existing providers to receive property tax breaks for making rents more affordable.

There’s much more work to do–but some want to take us back to the old way of doing business in Cook County. We must instead keep pressing forward, and make sure that those who want special treatment or unfair tax breaks for the very wealthy and big corporations are defeated. I hope to continue this work in a new term, where I will push to make more exemptions auto-renew. We’ll also continue to work with housing providers to identify affordable housing properties and assess them accurately. We will expand our already robust outreach program to communities.

I hope I can count on the support of Cook County voters in the June 28 Democratic primary. Together, we will ensure that we continue the great progress we’ve made in creating fairness and equity in our property tax system.