In what turned out to be one of the hottest races on the ballot in the 2018 primaries, Oak Park resident Fritz Kaegi handily defeated incumbent Joe Berrios and challenger Andrea Raila to win the race for Cook County assessor.
Berrios conceded the race to Kaegi around 8:40 p.m. As of press time, with 1,317 of the 1,599 precincts counted, Kaegi had about 46 percent of the vote to Berrios’ 33 percent and Raila’s 21 percent.
The race for assessor is typically one overlooked by voters, who historically focus more on the gubernatorial race and state assembly and Congressional seats. But Berrios has faced tough scrutiny from the press and activists over the last year for running an unfair and arbitrary tax assessment system. The Chicago Tribune released a series of stories about Berrios last summer, revealing the process by which the Assessor’s Office favors wealthy taxpayers over the poor.
“You sent a profound message that we want, we demand that we have ethics, transparency and fairness in our politics,” Kaegi told supporters during his victory speech on Tuesday night. “Good government is not a pipe dream or a fantasy in Cook County.”
The Tuesday night election watch party at Apollo’s 2000 in Chicago featured a number of high-profile Chicago progressive politicians like former mayoral candidate Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, who won his bid on Tuesday for the 4th Illinois Congressional District, and political newcomers like Aaron Ortiz, who narrowly defeated incumbent Dan Burke — the brother of 14th Ward Ald. Ed Burke — in the 1st District House race.
It’s a natural fit for Kaegi to celebrate Election Day with a challenger to the Burke political family; Kaegi campaigned on ending the system facilitated by the assessor’s office whereby property assessments are calculated in a black box to the benefit of those with the money to hire law firms like Ed Burke’s and Springfield Speaker of the House Michael Madigan’s to appeal, and potentially reduce, their tax bills.
Although Berrios has name recognition and serves as the Chairman of the Cook County Democratic Party, he’s faced an uphill battle against political newcomer Kaegi. Berrios not only faced the growing cacophony of media criticism, he’s also had to contend with Kaegi’s ability to gather political allies and campaign cash.
Kaegi has hit Berrios hard in the election, accusing him of corruption and running a system that benefits the wealthy and politically connected. Berrios fired back late last year with a series of ads calling Kaegi an “investment banker” whose firm made millions on investments in a private prison company.
Kaegi, who worked as an asset manager for Columbia Wanger Asset Management, showed his company made the investment in the for-profit prison company CoreCivic [formerly Corrections Corporation of America] after he left to run for assessor.
“I think it’s no coincidence that they started talking about this at the same time the Tribune had this bombshell exposé on how billions and billions and billions of dollars of abatement benefits were given to the clients of Joe Berrios’ campaign donors,” Kaegi told Wednesday Journal in late December. “And that is sort of the bookend to the exposé the Tribune did earlier this summer showing extensive over assessment of black and brown communities, including on the West Side and the western suburbs.”
Kaegi has faced his own problems with challenger Andrea Raila, who was temporarily kicked off the ballot due to a challenge to her nominating petition from Kaegi. The Cook County Electoral Board ruled that Raila’s nominating petitions showed a pattern of fraud, and a Cook County Judge later upheld that decision.
An Illinois Appellate Court saw things differently and ordered that the votes for Raila be counted. Raila reportedly has called for an investigation because of a text message reportedly sent to some election officials telling them to notify voters that her name should not have appeared on the ballot. Raila told media outlets that the mistake might invalidate the election.