Cook County Evaluator Fritz Kaegi defeated challenger Kari Steele on Tuesday, winning the Democratic nomination in his battle for a second term in what was the county’s most expensive and high-profile primary contest.
Kaegi unseated one of Cook County’s most powerful politicians in 2018 by pledging to overhaul the county’s unfair and flawed property assessment system to make it more fair, transparent and free from political influence.
Kaegi led Steele with 54% of the vote with 62% of the votes counted, according to early and unofficial feedback.
Kaegi declared victory just after 9:30 p.m., shortly after Steele conceded the run.
Steele, the president of Greater Chicago’s Metropolitan Water Reclamation District, said the changes overseen by Kaegi’s office have created chaos and hurt businesses struggling to stay afloat amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Kaegi will face libertarian candidate Nico Tsatsoulis in the November 8 general election. No Republicans showed up to run.
Despite the backlash from commercial landlords profiting from construction and development, Kaegi said the changes he has made will ease the property tax burden from landlords by shifting it to businesses. Commercial properties had been significantly overvalued under former Cook County assessor Joe Berrios, while residential properties — especially those in the county’s southern suburbs and on the south and west sides of Chicago — were overvalued, Kaegi said. .
During the campaign, Steele echoed criticism of Kaegi from officials at the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce as well as the Building Owners and Managers Association of Chicago, accusing Kaegi of “mismanagement”.
While Kaegi was backed by the Cook County Democratic Party, Steele won the support of the Chicago Federation of Labor.
Both Kaegi and Steele were allowed to raise unlimited funds for their campaigns, after Steele contributed $100,001 to his campaign on May 4, according to filings with the Illinois State Board of Elections.
This contribution lifted state-imposed limits on campaign contributions to candidates in the race. The law is designed to level the playing field between wealthy candidates and those who cannot self-fund their campaigns by allowing them to raise larger sums from contributors.
Steele’s contribution paved the way for a $1 million contribution from the Fight Back Fund, which is supported by Local 150 of the International Union of Operating Engineers.
The union benefits construction and development and is a major force in local and state elections in Illinois.
Kaegi has responded in kind, contributing $2 million to his campaign since May 12, according to filings with the Illinois State Board of Elections.
Steele’s campaign has been plagued by controversy generated by her husband, Maze Jackson. Jackson made a series of anti-Semitic, homophobic and anti-Latino comments on his radio show, which he also used to promote Steele’s campaign. Steele and Jackson apologized.
Steele also faced questions about how she would handle her husband’s work as a lobbyist for clients such as Onni Group, one of Chicago’s largest real estate developers.
In the race for Cook County Sheriff, incumbent Tom Dart declared victory over Chicago Police Sgt. Nolan Rivera for the Democratic nomination. Early feedback shows darts winning 88% of the vote. Dart will face libertarian Brad Sandefur, a sergeant in the sheriff’s department, in the general election.
In other races, Cook County Council Speaker Toni Preckwinkle easily beat Oak Park attorney Richard Boykin in her bid for a fourth term. She will face libertarian Thea Tsatsos in the general election.
The Democratic primary races for Cook County Clerk and Cook County Treasurer were uncontested. Treasurer Maria Pappas will face Libertarian Michael Murphy in the fall and Clerk Karen Yarbrough will face Libertarian Joseph Schreiner.
Contact Heather Cherone: @HeatherCherone | (773) 569-1863 | [email protected]