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Chris Kennedy Blasts Fellow Dems, Calls For Property Tax Reforms

(CBS) -- His wealth is inherited, and he carries the name of America's most famous political family.

But Chris Kennedy declared Tuesday he's running for Illinois governor as an outsider -- surprisingly taking aim at major Democratic Party stalwarts.

CBS 2 Political Reporter Derrick Blakley has more.

In a rousing, 40-minute Bronzeville speech, Kennedy called Democratic opponent J.B. Pritzker the poster boy for property tax shenanigans. He said the assessment reduction billionaire Pritzker wrangled on an empty home that he bought next door to his Gold Coast mansion could only happen in Illinois.

That is where, he said, "a billionaire can have a million dollar mansion reclassified as dilapidated in the most expensive block, in the most expensive street, in the most expensive neighborhood, in one of the most expensive cities in the world."

"All he needed was the right lawyers to avoid paying his fair share," Kennedy said.

Without naming him, Kennedy also took aim at Cook County Assessor Joe Berrios, who is also Cook County Democratic chairman.

"We need to put a ban on property tax lawyers making contributions to local assessors," Kennedy said.

These contributions Berrios readily accepts, as spotlighted by 2 Investigator Brad Edwards in a recent report.

Kennedy also took aim at the private work that's made millions for Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan and powerful Chicago Ald. Ed Burke.

"We need to stop elected officials acting as property tax appeals lawyers," he said.

It's all necessary, says Kennedy, to reform a system that cheats school districts and hurts middle-class homeowners while favoring the rich.

Kennedy was later asked if Berrios, Madigan and Burke are corrupt.

He replied: "The people who are in the system feel like they're playing by the rules and, as such, they feel like they're not breaking the rules. I think we need to change the rules so if this conduct continues, it's against the law."

Kennedy is among several Democrats launching bids for the party nomination for governor. The winner is expected to square off against Republican incumbent Gov. Bruce Rauner.

Pritzker's campaign said Kennedy's remarks about tax breaks are hypocritical because he himself has sought relief, too.

"For years as a businessman and private citizen, Chris Kennedy personally hired what he now calls a 'well connected law firm' to lower his own home's property taxes and used that same firm to lower the value on two business projects by nearly $9 million dollars. It's laughable that millionaire Chris Kennedy is now railing against the exact same system he used to try and save millions," the Pritzker campaign said in a prepared statement.

Meanwhile, a Berrios spokesperson also responded to Kennedy's stinging comments, saying there is no favoritism or ethical lapses in the assessor's office.

"The Cook County Assessor's Office assesses property and processes appeals with integrity and fairness, based on analysis of sale prices and real estate market conditions," a prepared statement said.

The spokesperson concedes about half of assessment appeals receive some form of tax relief, but he says that's mostly true for those filed both with and without lawyers.


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