GOP offers graphic to illustrate Democratic entanglement in Cook County
The Illinois Republican Party is offering an infographic to illustrate the connections among House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago), Cook County Assessor Joseph Berrios and other key Illinois Democrats identified by the Chicago Tribune recently.
The Tribune's three-part series suggested that Cook County assessments favor the wealthy and property tax attorneys, including Madigan, a legislator who creates property tax law and an attorney who works on property tax appeals. The GOP’s infographic places Madigan at the center of a tangled web, connecting him to Berrios, an ally who benefits from Madigan’s property tax connections, as well as other prominent Democrats.
Similar to Madigan, Berrios holds two positions, chairing the Cook County Democratic Party and serving as the county assessor, a role in which he has received more than $2.5 million in donations from property tax attorneys, according to the Tribune. The GOP contends that because of the donations, property tax attorneys are easily able to influence Berrios.
Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) and Democratic candidates for governor Chris Kennedy and J.B. Pritzker are also part of the web. According to the Republicans, Cullerton is tied to Madigan beyond their party affiliations, having served as his lieutenant in the House before moving on to the Senate. Cullterton also mirrors Madigan’s second career, working as a property tax appeals attorney in addition to his service in the General Assembly.
Pritzker and Kennedy, according to the infographic, are both beneficiaries of this property tax web. Pritzker, the billionaire heir to the Hyatt Hotel fortune, recently hit a snag in his campaign to secure the Democratic nomination for the 2018 governor race. The Chicago Sun-Times revealed that he had received a property tax break of more than $230,000 following appeals on the assessments of his main property and neighboring mansion.
Several years after purchasing the neighboring mansion, Pritzker’s renovation efforts left the home without a working kitchen or bathrooms. This qualified the million-dollar property as uninhabitable and vacant, leading to a significant reduction in its assessed value and therefore in Pritzker’s bill.
As the GOP notes, Pritzker’s property tax attorneys are themselves connected to Berrios, having made more than $100,000 in contributions to political organizations that he oversees.
Similarly, Kennedy has appealed property assessments and won reductions thanks to the work of property tax attorneys – in his case, the attorneys at Madigan & Getzendanner, according to the Illinois Republicans. He previously appealed property taxes on Chicago Merchandise Mart, which the Kennedy family used to own, and recently received reductions following an appeal on a the assessment of a downtown Chicago development he is working on with business associates.
The Tribune’s series, written by Jason Grotto, shows that assessments from the Cook County Assessor’s Office systematically resulted in higher effective tax rates for residents living in the county’s poorer areas than those in the wealthier neighborhoods. Compounding the inequalities, wealthier residents are more likely than poor residents to engage a property tax attorney to appeal their assessment. According to the Tribune, 80 percent of the appeals filed in 2015 resulted in tax bill reductions.
While the third part of the series notes that there have been problems in the assessor’s office for decades, Grotto writes that Berrios, as assessor, has resisted reform and ignored industry standards.
“The latest powerful politician to hold his office, Berrios is chairman of the Cook County Democratic Party and controls three active campaign funds where he’s raised more than $5 million since 2009, more than half of which came from property tax attorneys and the businesses associated with them,” Grotto wrote. “Among his strongest allies: Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan and Ald. Edward Burke, both property tax lawyers who benefit from the county’s broken system.”