As a candidate for governor, Democrat Chris Kennedy has called for a sweeping overhaul of a property tax system he calls “a racket” that enables politically connected lawyers to arrange lucrative breaks for their clients.
But as the part-owner and manager of a four-acre parcel near the Merchandise Mart, Kennedy leveraged the very system he now condemns to shave $1.5 million off property tax bills for the lot, known as Wolf Point, just as he and partners were priming it for a $1 billion high-rise development.
An investigation by the Better Government Association found that Cook County Assessor Joseph Berrios had initially calculated a $23.5 million fair market value in 2012 for the then mostly undeveloped Wolf Point property. That was up sharply from the pre-2012 valuation by the assessor’s office of $13.5 million.
Instead, Kennedy appealed the valuation through the law firm of Thomas Tully, himself a former Cook County Assessor, who since 2012 has donated more than $135,000 to political funds tied to Berrios.
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The appeal filed by Tully centered on an argument that the assessor had mistakenly thought a revenue producing three-story parking garage occupied the Wolf Point property. Such a structure had once existed but had long since been demolished and replaced by a surface parking lot.
In the appeal, Tully said it was proper to only consider revenue produced by the surface lot in calculating the property’s value for tax purposes. Berrios’ office agreed, choosing not to factor in the development potential of a property that the Kennedy group had already begun trying to exploit by 2012.
So, is there hypocrisy here? Some, but Kennedy did have a fiduciary responsibility to his investors at the time. And it’s not like he was ripping out toilets to game the system. The property was clearly being assessed too high. And Kennedy’s first hand experience ought to give him some credibility to talk about the system’s many problems. Instead, the BGA goes for “sizzle” stories.