A personal letter from Fritz Kaegi
I’m Fritz Kaegi; I am a proud progressive Democrat and I’m writing to you because I am running for Cook County Assessor against the incumbent Joe Berrios. I want to tell you a little bit about myself, explain why I am running, and ask for your support in the Democratic Primary in March. There is a great deal at stake in this race, so I wanted to send this personal letter before our mailboxes and the airwaves get overrun with clutter. A letter might not be the most conventional way to campaign, but I know the voters of Cook County care deeply about fixing the broken property tax system, standing up for ethics, accountability, and transparency, and fighting corruption in local government.
Since launching my campaign last May, the response has been overwhelming. When a candidate challenges an incumbent, elected officials and organizations typically support the incumbent. In this case, even though we are challenging one of the most powerful machine politicians in the county, we have been endorsed by Clerk David Orr; Congressional leaders such as Danny Davis, Robin Kelly, Bill Foster, and Bobby Rush; State Senator Heather Steans; Commissioner Chuy Garcia; and other great progressive leaders such as State Representative Will Guzzardi and Ald. Scott Waguespack.
The momentum is evident and the opportunity to bring fairness instead of political favoritism to the Assessor’s office is before us. We all know what’s wrong with the system – billions of dollars in tax reductions go to the owners of downtown skyscrapers like Trump Tower, and the rest of us pay for it. I’m running to end the pay to play system, to bring professionalism and transparency to the office, and to fix the unfair tax system which has uprooted families and devastated communities.
I grew up in Hyde Park in the 1980s – an exciting time to be in a hotbed of progressive activism. My values come from my family. My grandmother was a New Dealer in FDR’s administration. My mother was a volunteer for the Peace Corps and in Martin Luther King’s Poor People’s Campaign. My father was a history teacher. I attended Kenwood Academy in the Chicago Public Schools, and earned an MBA at Stanford. I live in Oak Park with my wife Rebecca – a school teacher – and our three children.
My career, up until running for office, was in finance (An odd place for a progressive Democrat – indeed one of my bosses once joked he was “mystified how a socialist could be such a good stock picker!”). I managed mutual funds that represented working people’s college and retirement savings. And I’m proud of the good work I was able to do in an industry that can sometimes lack a moral compass.
What I learned in my career, and what made me decide to run for Assessor, is that people
need confidence that those overseeing their assets care about them, and about the impact
of their decisions. The work I did in my career was fair, ethical, and completely transparent. I am running to bring that same commitment to an office which desperately needs it.
What is at stake in the race?
This past year, the Chicago Tribune and ProPublica conducted an investigation of the property tax system that was unprecedented in its depth and scope. This evaluation provided even more detail around earlier conclusions of the Better Government Association and other government watchdog groups. Together, they have demonstrated that the Assessor’s office under Joe Berrios has systematically shifted property taxes away from downtown commercial developments and the very wealthy, putting a greater burden on minority and low-income neighborhoods.
The reason that Joe Berrios and his cronies have done such harm to our communities, however, is not hard to see. Joe Berrios oversees three campaign funds, and his coffers are filled with the money from the attorneys who do business with the office – those who get billions of dollars of tax breaks for downtown skyscrapers turn around and bankroll Berrios’ campaign accounts. Additionally, Joe Berrios’ family members get government jobs (and he was sued for discriminatory firing of employees costing Cook County millions of dollars). And he spends his campaign funds on expensive dinners at fancy restaurants and the political machine that keeps the system in place.
So how do we turn this around?
That’s where you come in. I’ll be honest — when we started this campaign the most common response we would get was “yes the system is awful, but who is Fritz Kaegi?” Thanks to a lot of hard work by my campaign team, that is changing, but there is still a good deal of work to do. If you care about Cook County as much as I do, and value fairness, ethics, and transparency, then I need your help.
First, I need your vote in the March Democratic Primary. The machine can spread lies, but voters get the final say. When hundreds of thousands of people demand honest government and to be heard, and we talk to our friends and neighbors, we win.
Second, please go to our website, fritzforassessor.com, and our Facebook page for more information. Invite others to follow our page. And, while you’re there, if you can, help us spread the word by contributing to the campaign – any amount makes a huge difference.
Finally, make sure to get the facts. The Berrios campaign has already reached deep into its war chest to mislead voters. They can say what they want, but you deserve the truth. They have called me a “Wall Street Republican,” claimed that I invested in private prisons, and they will no doubt make more smears. (These claims are laughable: I am a life-long Democrat and actually blocked the funds I was managing from making these investments!)
They want to distract voters from the reality that they have perpetrated a great injustice on the people of Cook County, but we have truth on our side. Deciding to run was not easy, but the support of my family, friends, and thousands committed to social justice makes it worth it.
Thank you for taking the time to read this letter, and please do not hesitate to reach out. This is our county, and this March we can demand honesty, transparency, and fairness.
Yours in service,