Democratic candidate for governor Chris Kennedy called rival J.B. Pritzker a "poster child" for hypocrisy exhibited by party leaders who game the property assessment system to stay in power.
"Pritzker won't speak out against what's happening," Kennedy told the Daily Herald editorial board Thursday. "It's tangible evidence of his desire to protect the status quo."
Kennedy, a Kenilworth real estate developer and nephew of former President John F. Kennedy, also took a swipe at Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, accusing him of sabotaging the state by allowing debts to accumulate during several years without a budget.
The offensive comes as the March 20 primary closes in and billionaire Pritzker continues to outspend his five Democratic opponents.
Kennedy, 54, said he compared properties across Cook County and blamed Assessor Joseph Berrios, who is Cook County Democratic Party chairman, for rigging the system to give wealthy homeowners low assessments at the expense of low-income homeowners. Others who benefit are property tax appeals attorneys like Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan, he said.
"Elected officials should be banned from being property tax appeals lawyers," Kennedy said.
Pritzker is also implicated by buying a mansion next to his posh house in Chicago and letting it fall into disrepair to get a $230,000 property tax reduction, Kennedy charged.
"He disconnected the toilets and said it was uninhabitable," Kennedy added. "He's a poster child for that hypocrisy.
"If we get the dirty money out of politics and the dirty politicians out of government, the remainder will be free to do what they think is right and allow the legislature to properly fund schools."
Madigan spokesman Steve Brown said the claims are false and no improprieties were found in multiple media investigations of the speaker's law firm.
Pritzker spokeswoman Galia Slayen said Kennedy is hypocritical because he used "connected lawyers ... to get millions of dollars in tax breaks on reassessing his home and on multiple businesses."
Kennedy, former manager of the Merchandise Mart, said "in Cook County, you have to appeal assessments. It's basically extortion converted into a racket. I don't know of any commercial property with investors and a mortgage where the manager isn't fiduciarily obliged to appeal."
Kennedy, who is overseeing a Chicago riverfront development called Wolf Point, said its "assessments were in line with all of its peers'."
Berrios spokeswoman Monica Trevino said the assessor has worked to make the system fairer. She called Kennedy "disingenuous" for appealing the assessment of Wolf Point and his home.
On Rauner, Kennedy criticized the incumbent for allowing Illinois to build up billions in unpaid bills.
"(Rauner) never refinanced the outstanding debt. He's got one of the finest financial minds in the state ... why not refinance at cheaper rates? I believe his goal was to leave the state with $24 (billion) to $25 billion in unpaid bills so state government could do very little more than tax the economy to pay down those bills, thereby shrinking the government."
Most of the Democrats support a graduated income tax but have been coy on specifics.
Kennedy wants to consider a system such as Massachusetts has where a tax credit for low-income residents "in essence creates a synthetic graduated income tax."
He also said "we need to protect people making less than $150,000 in household income ... maybe a little higher than that, but we'll see."
Kennedy, who also runs a charity that brings inexpensive food to poor neighborhoods, also is running against state Sen. Daniel Biss of Evanston, Madison County Superintendent of Schools Bob Daiber, Chicago activist Tio Hardiman and physician Robert Marshall of Burr Ridge, who were invited to individual meetings with the editorial board.