It has been a big week for Cook County Assessor candidate Fritz Kaegi, who overcame a nominating petition challenge – an effort by incumbent candidate Joe Berrios' campaign to get Kaegi kicked off the ballot – and filed a defamation lawsuit against Berrios over a campaign ad he says is misleading.
Oak Parker Kaegi said in a telephone interview that the Berrios campaign failed in its effort to remove him from the ballot. The Berrios campaign claimed both that organizers who collected nominating petition signatures were invalid and that those who signed the petition also could not be verified.
"The (signature) gatherers were valid," Kaegi said. "Then they claimed there were not enough valid signatures. They did a records review for the signatures, and they were coming up so good that the Berrios campaign admitted that we would have enough good signatures."
Kaegi has claimed since the challenge was filed that it was an effort by Berrios to distract his campaign and drain his resources.
"These developments inject our campaign with additional momentum as we seek to clean up the Cook County Assessor's office and provide a fairer, less regressive property tax assessment for all," Kaegi said.
Berrios campaign manager Mario Lopez said in an email that the objections to the nominating petition were "well founded" but it became clear "that both candidates will be above the minimum signature requirements when everything is complete."
"We have decided that the responsible thing to do is not further burden the various campaigns and public resources and end our petition challenges by not pursuing other issues raised in the objections," Lopez said. "We look forward to having a lively debate with the Cook County Assessor's opponents and discussing the assessor's numerous accomplishments."
Kaegi also announced today that he has filed a defamation lawsuit against Berrios for a television attack ad that Kaegi said falsely claims the investment management company he worked for invested in a private prison company.
The lawsuit claims that the attack ad has caused injury to Kaegi, "through reputation, actual expenses, and otherwise."
Kaegi was an investment manager with Columbia Wanger Asset Management, managing the Acorn Fund prior to launching his campaign for assessor. While the fund did invest in a private prison company, that investment did not take place until after Kaegi had stepped down from his position.
"My investment history at Columbia Wanger is a matter of public record and we have openly provided the appropriate SEC filings and an affidavit demonstrating as much," Kaegi said in a press release. "To further perpetuate these falsehoods only confirms what we know about Assessor Berrios all along – he is committed to no one but himself and his political cronies, and will intentionally mislead taxpayers away from his dismal track record as assessor."
Lopez said in an email that the lawsuit comes about a month after Kaegi sent the Berrios campaign a cease-and-desist letter calling for him to take down the ad.
Lopez said that cease-and-desist letter "was badly prepared" and did not compel television stations to take down the ad.
"All of our claims are factual," Lopez said.
Lopez likened Kaegi to Donald Trump, saying, "he uses frivolous lawsuits to attempt to intimidate his opponents. The television ad is no longer running on television or on any media outlet."
Kaegi further criticized Berrios in a Jan. 10 press release, highlighting news reports that the assessor was recently fined $41,000 by the Chicago Board of Ethics for not returning campaign contributions from property tax lawyers that were considered unlawful because they exceeded the legal limit.
"As usual, Joe Berrios is flouting ethics rules," Kaegi said in a press release. "By refusing to comply with a Board of Ethics rule that limits contributions from property tax lawyers that do business with his office, Berrios has turned the Assessor's Office into a cash cow for his campaign coffers."
Berrios responded with his own press release, stating, "Attempts by the county ordinance to limit the rights of contributors are invalid."
"Assessor Berrios is not personally wealthy, so he must rely on campaign contributions from supporters," the Berrios campaign said in the press release, calling Kaegi a "Wall Street Republican."
Kaegi has said the characterization of him as a Republican is false and that he's always voted as a Democrat.
The Berrios statement continued: "According to Illinois State Law, the maximum an individual can contribute to a candidate is $5,600. No contribution to Assessor Berrios' campaign exceeded that amount."
Berrios' campaign said he has filed a motion for reconsideration of the Board of Ethics' ruling.
"The Assessor believes the fines are improper and expects the order will be ultimately vacated by the ethics board of the court," the statement notes.
Meanwhile, Kaegi said in an interview that his campaign continues to gain steam and has received recent endorsements from Illinois Rep. Will Guzzardi (D-39th) and 32nd Ward Ald. Scott Waguespack, who is chairman of the city's progressive caucus.
Assessor candidate Andrea Raila could not immediately be reached for comment.
Answer Book 2018
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