Larry Rogers Jr. fights big money from Assessor Fritz Kaegi, holds on to spot on property appeals board

Cook County Board of Review Commissioner Larry Rogers Jr. declared victory in the Democratic primary Tuesday in his effort to secure another term on the three-member panel that hears appeals to property tax values.

The win for Rogers, who is a personal injury attorney at the firm Power Rogers, was also a defeat for Cook County Assessor Fritz Kaegi, who poured $680,000 into a campaign fund focused on defeating Rogers. But Rogers fought fire with fire, loaning his campaign fund $850,000 since the start of the year, according to state campaign records.

With 98% of precincts reporting in the Democratic primary, Rogers had a sizable lead over challenger Larecia Tucker, with 61.6% of the vote to her 38.4%. There was no declared Republican candidate in the primary, meaning Rogers is likely to cruise to victory in November.

Tucker, a former real estate agent and clerk in the Rich Township assessor’s office, said she was “sad” about Tuesday’s results, but thought Rogers’ long tenure and late spending spree pushed him over the top.

“I am OK, though. I was really proud to run for the Board of Review and bring light to the issues in this broken property tax system,” she said.

“This is a win for Cook County taxpayers who deserve an independent voice at the Board of Review,” Rogers told the Tribune in a text message Tuesday night.

Rogers has served on the panel since 2004 and has publicly feuded with Kaegi in recent years over Kaegi’s running of the assessor’s office.

Rogers has said Kaegi’s office produced inaccurate calculations that boosted commercial property values that the board later had to roll back, mishandled a controversial “COVID adjustment” for real estate assessments and didn’t fix technological problems between the assessor and the board that contributed to tax bills being sent out late to property taxpayers. Rogers described Kaegi as the worst assessor of the three he’s worked with over the past two decades.

Kaegi has said the board’s rollbacks of commercial values came at the expense of homeowners, but previously said he wouldn’t leverage his personal fortune to meddle in Board of Review politics.

But that changed this year when he endorsed Tucker and began contributing — along with his family members — directly to her campaign. Kaegi also deposited cash into a political action committee called Stop Tax Corruption Cook County, which ran campaign ads blasting Rogers for accepting political contributions from property tax interests doing business in front of the board and for an ethics fine related to Rogers’ other job as a personal injury attorney.

Rogers decried Kaegi’s involvement as hypocritical in part because Kaegi previously said it was inappropriate for him to try to influence elections for a board that functions as a check on his assessments.

This year was an “exceptional situation,” Kaegi previously told the Tribune, adding it was an opportunity to bring important transparency and ethics changes to the board. On top of the money given to the super PAC, Kaegi, his campaign fund and wife also contributed nearly $80,000 to Tucker directly.

“Assessor Fritz Kaegi tried a takeover,” Rogers said in a text. “He lost. The taxpayers won!”

In a statement, Kaegi defended his decision to support Tucker and said he had “absolutely no regrets.”

“For too long, the public has been unaware of the Board of Review and how its tax breaks for large commercial property owners cause more tax burden to be placed on residents and small businesses. Larecia’s campaign brought all this into the light,” he said. “By donating almost a million dollars to his own campaign and by continuing to accept donations from those who file appeals with his office, Larry Rogers demonstrates his devotion to a broken system in favor of the well-connected and the wealthy.”

The scuffle between Rogers and Kaegi has divided the county’s Democratic Party, which backed Rogers in the race. Rogers did not support Kaegi when he ran as the party’s pick for reelection in 2022.

“I have to honestly say that I had difficult conversations with Commissioner Rogers in the last cycle, about the fact that (he) didn’t support the Cook County Democratic nominee for assessor,” party chair and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said late last month. “I have now had in the 2024 cycle difficult conversations with the assessor about the fact that he’s not supporting one of the members of the Board of Review. That’s just where we are.”

Politics aside, the two will still have to work together to get property tax bills on time this year and are both participating in a working group convened by Preckwinkle designed to reform the property tax system. Kaegi is working on assessing the city of Chicago this year.