The [Monday] Papers
On Mondays, I go to the Sun-Times first when preparing this column because their "Watchdogs" piece usually qualifies as the lead item. This week is no different.
"When Mesirow Financial Services - a Chicago company that manages millions of dollars in pension funds for the state of Illinois - and its partners wanted to fight the property taxes on their new skyscraper, they called the law offices of Illinois House Speaker Michael J. Madigan," Tim Novak reports.
You can see where this is going.
"Madigan's law firm saved the Mesirow group more than $1.7 million in real estate taxes by persuading Cook County officials to slash the value of the River North building by 60 percent soon after it opened nearly five years ago."
If one were to give the benefit of the doubt to everyone involved, one could surmise that Cook County officials goofed - by a magnitude of 60% - in assessing Mesirow's building. One could then surmise that Mesirow merely got what it deserved. One could further surmise, then, that the system worked.
Let us, briefly, surmise that. Who in Cook County is going to get fired for doing their job so badly? Making a 60% mistake - and making such "mistakes" over and over and over, which fills Madigan's pockets - is surely a fireable offense.
Of course, we all know that incompetence isn't likely the problem here; it's clout.
Madigan's firm has gotten Cook County Assessor Joseph Berrios - chairman of the Cook County Democratic Party and a political ally of Madigan, the chairman of the Illinois Democratic Party - to slash the skyscraper's value, arguing it hasn't been particularly profitable, in part because of 'generous rent abatements' Mesirow agreed to give its tenants, including Mesirow itself.
Over the past three years, Berrios' assessment cuts have saved the building's new owner, Tishman Speyer, nearly $15 million in real estate taxes that otherwise would have been passed on, which passes the tax bills on to Mesirow and other tenants, records show.
And another tax cut is on the way. Madigan got Berrios and the Cook County Board of Review to again slash the estimated value of the property early this year.
Michael Madigan was just re-elected as both the chairman of the state's Democratic Party and the Speaker of the Democrat-led House.
A lot of local Democrats spend a lot of time bellyaching about Republicans, both in Illinois and on the federal level, but they are curiously silent when it comes to their own party here at home. Whatever happened to hope and change?
"Madigan says it wasn't a conflict of interest for his law firm to win the tax breaks for Mesirow - which has been paid more than $9 million over the past five years to manage state pension funds that now total more than $300 million and another $5.2 million for financial and insurance services to the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority and other state agencies."
Everything outside the political arena - and many things inside it - is a conflict-of-interest for someone as powerful as Michael Madigan. And we all know it. Yet, the show goes on.
"The speaker also says he's done nothing to help Mesirow - where his son Andrew Madigan is a company vice president - get state business."
Please. Merely signing Mesirow on as a client helps them get state business.
"The speaker's son started at Mesirow as an intern in 2008. Mesirow says he now works in 'business development for all lines of insurance,' often involving suburbs including Blue Island, Burbank and Cicero."
I refer you now to The Speaker's Son.
"Madigan's six-lawyer firm specializes in getting property-tax cuts for Chicago skyscrapers, hotels, shopping malls, car dealers and many others. Mesirow is one of the few clients that has contracts with the state of Illinois.
"Mesirow says Madigan's firm didn't represent the company itself but, instead, an affiliated entity, 351 Mortgage Loan Borrower LLC. That company - formed by Richard Stein, a Mesirow senior managing director, to build the skyscraper for Mesirow - has never gotten state business, Mesirow's Deborah S. Kripes says.
"Mesirow has had state contracts for more than a decade."
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Posted on June 16, 2014
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