Press Release

Speech at the Harold Washington Cultural Center, May 30, 2017

Thank you all for coming here today. I hope this is will be the first in a series of introductory remarks that kick off a dialogue between all of us about the future of our state. Throughout the series, I intend to cover a range of topics, each with a deep dive with the hope that as a result of this and the feedback I receive that we can then work together to develop plans and policies that will guide our state forward.

Thank you all. Thank you so much. Thank you. Thank you.

Thank you. You and LaRue have been an incredible inspiration to Sheila and me and to our family. The support you provided us early on at Top Box to help us expand throughout the city and throughout Illinois. Your voice, your endorsement, your leadership and your help have made all the difference. It’s an honor to have you here. You deserve a round of applause.

Thank you all for coming here today. I hope this is will be the first in a series of introductory remarks that kick off a dialogue between all of us about the future of our state. Throughout the series, I intend to cover a range of topics, each with a deep dive with the hope that as a result of this and the feedback I receive that we can then work together to develop plans and policies that will guide our state forward.

Over the coming weeks I hope to present our campaign’s thoughts about stemming the violence that is plaguing our communities, identifying the reforms needed to restore confidence in the government as an agent of change, identifying economic development opportunities that will allow the state to invest in the economy that it is part of, reforming our criminal justice system so that we have better outcomes for our communities and everyone else who is touched by the law, and reaffirming the role of community colleges, and universities, and research institutions have in the future of our state.

I hope to discuss rebranding Illinois from a leader in political corruption and daily violence and instead see it as a worldwide leader in disability rights and mental health care coverage. With you, I want to develop an overarching vision to capitalize on the state’s’ tourism economy and a chance to bring millions of dollars here from all over the United States and all over the world to Illinois. I want to share a view of our social contract between the government and its people and make sure that anti-hunger program and affordable housing programs are a preamble to that contract. I think we need a basic health care that provides access and affordability to all. And I think we need to see the way forward where the government can invest in transportation, in logistics, in warehousing, to keep our competitive advantage here in Illinois over other states and more importantly, to put back to work the millions of people who have been left out of the current economic expansion. We need to advocate for a capital bill that recognizes the federal government’s intention to pass a massive infrastructure-spending program later this summer, and the need for immediate compromise in Springfield in order to, among other things, take advantage of the forthcoming federal spending.

I’m going to spend this campaign talking to the people of Illinois about this agenda and how we can restore the promise of our state through a series of town halls. Over the coming months, we will be laying out the details of each of these plans, because never again, never again should we elect a governor who walks on platitudes and never tells us what he’s going do until the day after he’s elected.

Today’s speech is going to be focused on property taxes and the inherently corruptible nature of that system, and how our reliance on these taxes prevents our state from achieving many of its goals, and suggest a path forward, regarding reforming not only property taxes but also the necessary prerequisite changes to allow us once again to have full faith that our government is rid of corruption.

Throughout American history, we have been taught that America is the land of opportunity. The American Dream of rising from rags to riches is the promise of our country. The United States is, at its best, is a place where anyone can make it, a nation of rugged individualism, unlimited opportunity, and freedom for all. At its best, the American ideal is one of a country where there is equal opportunity, if not equal outcome. Americans come to this desire for freedom honestly. We inherited it from our parents. It was taught to us by our teachers and it was brought to us by the people who helped raise us in each of our communities. Freedom is also a hallmark of our great religions in America and the example of Pope John Paul II who spoke before the United Nations, and in that speech he says, ladies and gentlemen, freedom is the measure of man’s dignity, and so in this concept of freedom, the fundamental tenants of the American ideal and Abrahamic social justice, are linked forever.

We are living in a time when our fellow citizens are concerned about freedom and the status of the American Dream, which it represents, as that dream seems to slip away from them and from their children. For years we have sensed the frustration that this growing economic oppression, in the Occupy Movement, we have seen it and felt it in the Tea Party leaders, who could relate to it in the Indivisible movement, we could see it in the despair of millions of Americans who no longer participate in the public life of our country, even by voting. We can see it in the range and anger in places like Ferguson, Missouri, in Baltimore, Maryland, with the gentrification of American cities is occurring in which we have gentrification without hope. This attack on the American Dream has been going on for decades. We could see it in the impact of enormous swing elections, where the voters punished elected officials who failed to deliver the freedom that they promised and instead, support candidates who give us hope that they will. We can see it in certain counties in Illinois, where 50, and 60, and 70 percent of people voted for Donald Trump because they feel like the political establishment has created an economy that won’t work for those voters. The 2016 election was a messaging vote, a warning that we must reform our economy and our political establishment, or a majority of Americans will support the destruction of both. Like most of you, I believe our state has incredible potential. I’ve seen Illinois from lots of different places, I’ve seen it as a social business entrepreneur with Top Box, as the President of the Merchandise Mart, as a producer of scores of trade shows around our city, as Chairmen of the convention and tourism bureau, as institutions who are on the board for, or affiliated with, the University of Chicago and Northwestern University, and through my time as chairman of University of Illinois, and in my role as an investor in the state I believe that there is a great future before us.

Like most of you, I love our state. But Illinois is on the wrong track, we’re headed in the wrong direction, we need to turn things around. We need change, not incremental change, but radical change. That radical change must of course start with changing out the governor.

But changing out the governor isn’t enough. For they keep the promise of the American Dream, and restore the potential of the state, we must also change the way we fund our grade schools and high schools and abandon the system and must end the system, and we change our property tax to do so. We must change the unfair way we have a single flat tax rate for all citizens, for the middle class and for the poor who are now taxed at the same tax rate as the wealthy, and instead, we must embrace a progressive income tax.

We must change the way we tackle the surge of gun violence and free up resources to fight it. But to do all of those things, we must as a prerequisite first change a political system that helps the establishment and the wealthy at the expense of everybody else. These changes, they can only start when we put an end to the property tax racket, where those who can are forced to hire lawyers every time they get a property tax assessment, leaving those who can’t afford a lawyer to pay more than their fair share. This property tax, it’s crippling our schools, it’s crippling the American Dream, it’s crippling our economy, it’s crippling our state, it contributes to our gun violence, it stands in the way of a progressive income tax, and it is crippling our ability to legitimize government as being free of corruption.

Our schools, they’re being crippled because they are chronically underfunded. And now, 75 percent of the kids who graduate from public schools in Illinois across the state need remedial education before they go on to trade school or community college, or university. That’s not the fault of hardworking teachers, it’s not the fault of the schools themselves, that’s the failure of a political system which is underinvested in public education because they are reliant on property taxes. Illinois’ funding of education is the most inequitable system in America. According to one study, Illinois takes more in taxes from the poor and the middle class than almost any other state in the nation, and then returns to the poor and the middle class less than any other state in the nation as well. As a result, 75 percent of our kids suffer.

The American Dream is crippled by the property tax system too because too few of our high school graduates are educated well enough to obtain jobs that command a salary that allow them to live, to earn a living wage. Without a living wage, these young adults will never be economically self-sufficient. They will never know the financial freedom, and the joys of living in the land of the free. Our economy is being crippled by the rigged system, because it’s leaving an increasingly smaller and smaller group of economic elites to amass incredible wealth, robbing the economy of a broad and diverse middle class that is capable of propelling economic growth in the future. Our state is being crippled because this group of economic elites are taking the wealth that they’ve amassed here in our state and moving elsewhere with it to tax havens for the rich, in order to avoid paying their fair share of the taxes in Illinois. This leaves Illinois with diminishing taxable assets, and according to Governor Rauner, the need for rising taxes. The situation that we are now in is the economic equivalent of circling the drain.

Gun violence persists because of the reliance on property taxes. These communities, plagued with the scourge of gun violence, are so overtaxed to pay for their schools that they’ve had to cut the number of police officers in order to keep the property tax rates from going even higher. The burden of property tax limits places like Chicago from raising the needed resources and revenue for officers and training. Places like Chicago have fewer police officers now than they did 10 years ago. And the ones that we have, have fewer opportunities for ongoing training. The property tax burden keeps our city from funding the very programs that put teenagers to work, providing after school programming and diverting kids from a life of violence. Everyone, everywhere, everyone, everywhere, should be able to wake up on a hot, sunny, summer day and look forward to it, rather than seeing that gift of nature instead as a dark omen of a violent night to come.

The tax burden stops us from fully funding proven programs that stop the spread of violence after it begins to interrupt the deadly chain. After it starts, the property tax burden limits our ability to provide effective community policing, because we have fewer officers, and more importantly, fewer officers from the very communities that need that community policing the most. Our property tax system keeps our school system from putting in place the social and emotional learning techniques that are proven ways to reach children who are growing up in communities surrounded by daily violence, and the very threats that keep their minds from focusing on learning English, and math, and science. The property tax burden keeps us from fully funding treatment necessary to fully support children and families, and, in fact, entire communities who have been victims of posttraumatic stress disorder, and so we fail to take care of the wounded even as we fail to stop the wounding. A progressive income tax, a progressive income tax is blocked by the property tax system because the current regressive tax system in which the rich pay less than the poor is a huge benefit to the super rich who will never trade a self-serving regressive property tax for a fair progressive income tax. We must abandon the property tax system currently in place if we ever want a progressive income tax.

Our ability to legitimize government as an agent of change is being crippled because so many people see the system as evidence of political insider abuse, where a billionaire can have a million dollar mansion, reclassified as dilapidated, on the most expensive block, in the most expensive street, in the most expensive neighborhood, in one of the most expensive cities in the world, and all he needed was the right lawyers to avoid playing his fair share. It’s just one more, one more example that cripples our ability to claim that our government is free from corruption. At least one assessor’s office contends that the system is not broken, that instead, he claims it’s just complex. Well, I contend that for millions of families across the state, it is both complex and very broken.

Governor Rauner, he says he wants to freeze property tax. I want to lower them. He wants to preserve the system. I want to abandon it. I say we need to act boldly and the time for caution and hesitation is gone. It is time now to act. We need leaders who are ready to revolt, not leaders who want to submit. If we do so, if we say that’s what we want, then first we need voters who are demanding accountability…and not voters who are going act as accomplices by voting for the people who want to preserve the rigged system.

This system is hurting people. In other parts of society when the rules allow people to get hurt, we change the rules. In football when injuries skyrocketed, the rules were changed to ban the practice of spearing, to make the game safer. In hockey, when injuries soared, the league required helmets for every player, to make sure the game was safer and fairer. Just as we’ve changed the rules for football and hockey to prevent people from getting hurt, so too must we change the rules around taxes to prevent people from getting hurt as they do every day.

And I thank you all for your clapping, and your applause, but if you want to come along and fight the fight with me, you need to be prepared to violate the two most important rules of politics in Illinois. The first and most famous, of course, is the notion that, “we don’t want nobody, nobody sent”. If you’re asking why you’d have to violate that rule for me, it’s because nobody sent me. I’m not here to protect them and I’m not here to enrich myself. I’m simply doing what generations of my family have done for decades before – I’m just trying to serve our country as best I can. The second rule is, “never fight City Hall”. We’re going to have to violate that in a sense as well. This campaign is not so much about City Hall as it is about the state house and perhaps about county buildings across the state, but the message is the same. It’s going be a tough fight, to go after the establishment, and they have lots of ways to fight back. Those of you who join me in this journey need to be prepared to be attacked. When they can’t destroy the message, they’ll always try to destroy the messengers. Above all should our campaign need to be honesty and candor and frankness and to the best of our ability, we will share the truth as we uncover it. The political establishment in Springfield will oppose me with everything they’ve got because they know I’m not afraid to tell the truth, to take on the status quo to change the system. I’ve never been afraid of a billionaire in my life and I‘m not afraid of them now.

I know…I know our mission is more powerful than their money, I know our message is stronger than their millions. Here is the truth. The property tax system started off wrong, and it got worse. It was eventually corrupted by the rich, and then finally corrupted by the insiders. As it starts off, there are literally millions of parcels that need to be assessed, and they’re broken up into communities. In the beginning, the earliest thing to do is to assess every house in the community, whatever the average sales price was for that community. That sounds fair, but it is ultimately inherently unjust. When the assessor uses an average, everyone who owns a house that is worth less than that average is automatically over-assessed, and everyone who owns a house that is worth more than the average is automatically under-assessed. The middle class ends up paying too much in taxes and the wealthiest end up paying way too little.

From there, the system got worse. In poorer communities, which lack a substantial property tax base, the local assessor is aware that the school is struggling and the government is barely treading water. So he or she, the local assessor works hard to assess every property as fully and highly as they can. This is often amplified by the fact that most people in these communities can’t afford to hire a lawyer to defend themselves and fight back. Soon, almost every property in lower income communities is all over-assessed. The system starts off flawed, and it gets worse as I’ve described, and then it gets rich, and finally corrupted by the insiders. After the assessors become so inaccurate, by which there is no standard by which to judge them, then the rule of law breaks down, and soon we are living in some form of converted Darwinian society in which only the wealthy thrive. This is where the wealthy thrive. This is where the wealthy, with access to lawyers and with help of big donations to electeds, step in and get the values of their properties reduced. Then a fourth phase develops, in which the wealthy, the connected, are no longer the ones initiating the appeals but instead, a racket develops. Properties receive outlandish, first pass estimates from the assessor’s office, and make property owners barraged by a pile of solicitation letters from lawyers offering to work for free to reduce their taxes. They often will work up a speculative, only getting paid if they win. But I assure you these property tax appeals lawyers are not going to take risks with their precious time. They give donations to the assessor’s campaign, and when they can’t give any more, they give to the assessor’s ward organization, and when they can’t give any more there, then they give to the county party, which the assessor may control. And magically, more than 60 percent of the time, they win their appeals and they get paid. Now in this scenario, in this scenario, if we cut out the middleman, and just made the checks directly to the assessor, after receiving the threatening over assessment, then that would be called extortion, and it would be illegal. By introducing the new middlemen in this case, the property tax appeals lawyer, the system’s protected. Protection is the difference between extortion and a racket. If this was the 1950s, and we were forced to pay protection money to one set of goons to keep another from giving us a beating, then they would call it a racket, and someone would stop it. Now, in the future, in Illinois, it doesn’t have to be like this. We can abandon the racket and return to the rule of law. We can fund schools fairly and we can cut property taxes for the poor and the middle class, forcing the rich to pay no more than their fair share. Some will stall…some will say it can’t be done. I say it must be done, for our children, and for our children’s children. It’s been done in every other state that we in Illinois want to be like. If they can do it in their states we can do it in ours.

For solutions to this problem, like solutions to so many other problems like we face in Illinois, we need to look outward, and not inward. We should not look to Springfield or the Thompson Center, we should look to other states, to other counties, to other cities, and see what they do and identify the best systems there and adapt them and then bring them here to Illinois. We should look at new techniques, like acquisition based assessments and we should look at studies like the one prepared by the Federal Reserve in Philadelphia. But first and foremost, we should begin by conducting a state audit of the accuracy of the assessed valuation, by simply comparing evaluations to recent sales. We need to push back on summaries and averages at community levels, which conceal the real truth, truth which can only be found in the granularity of the data.

Let’s look at the 10 most expensive buildings that have recently sold in every county, and compare those to the sales prices to the recent assessment. Let’s look at the largest mortgages that have been put in place and reported in our state and see how the assessed value compares to them. There’s a role for all the citizens in this. Each of us can go on the Internet. You can figure out the top 20 most recent sales in your community, and you can compare those sales prices to the assessor’s office assessments, and you can see for yourself whether you think it’s fair and accurate. I’ve done it for scores of communities, and my conclusion is that the system is rigged against the poor, against minorities, and anyone doesn’t have access to pinstripe patronage. Now there are those who want to protect the system that favors the wealthy the political establishment, and puts the poor and the middle class at a huge disadvantage. For many members of the political establishment, in both parties, the current system works just fine, so they will do whatever they have to do to protect the status quo. In fact, for many of them it works better than just fine. In fact, it is the source of their outside income. It is the source of their wealth. In essence, they are financially incentivized to preserve a rigged system. We must end the unfairness of a regressive system that protects the powerful and hurts everybody else. I don’t think this is about individuals, I think it’s about a whole network that makes it nearly impossible to see integrity in a system for the average voter or the average taxpayer.

There is a fundamental belief that separates Democrats from Republicans. Democrats believe that government can improve people’s lives, can help grow our economy, and can be an agent of positive change. To protect this Democratic value, we must protect therefore the integrity of government above all else. We know government can only be a vehicle for change if the people in government and the people that government is meant to serve believe in the integrity of the institution. We all have that confidence in Illinois because people here don’t believe that the political system is rid of corruption. We need to rid government of any hint of corruption by changing the system. To restore government integrity we need to put a ban on property tax lawyers making contributions to local assessors or to the assessor’s political organization, or even the political parties that have a hand in slating those political candidates.

The cameras are on me, feel free to clap as well, they’re not going to catch you.

To restore government integrity we need to put a ban on the revolving door that allows employees of the assessor’s office to go into private practice and lobby the office for at least a year. To restore government integrity, we need to separate the role of an elected assessor from the role in the party. This will restore confidence that other people in the party can oppose the assessor’s opinion without losing their jobs. They can speak up, freely, about the integrity of the assessment process without having the head of their local party interfering with their slating or with their careers. To restore government integrity, we need to ban having family members act as lobbyists and agents before the assessor. To restore government integrity, we need to end the practice of elected officials taking on outside employment that is adverse to the interest of the body they were elected to serve. And last, we need to stop elected officials from acting as property tax appeals lawyers. If we don’t stop politicians and parties from making money off of property tax system, they won’t ever let us change the system itself. If we don’t move away from property taxes, we won’t embrace a progressive tax. If we don’t embrace a progressive income tax, we will never fund schools properly or restore community safety or rid our cities and towns of the scourge of violence.

If we don’t fund schools property, we will never educate our kids to be economically self-sufficient. If the next generation is not self sufficient, then we cannot restore the American Dream. If we don’t restore the American Dream, we put the very future of our state and our country at risk. We need integrity, we need integrity in our institutions. And we need accountability from our elected politicians. We have people in Springfield doing their jobs who’ve suffered of consequence for failing to live up to their responsibilities. That ends now. As a candidate I’ll tell you this, if I’m lucky enough to be elected as your governor, if I don’t balance the budget, I won’t run again, nor should I, nor should they. That’s a level, that’s a level of accountability and honesty that’s sorely missing in Springfield. We need to show those people, we need to show those people – we don’t work for them, they work for us.

American history teaches us that same lesson over and over again. We’re taught that we’re stronger together than when we go in alone. It’s our national story. It’s a parable of our country. It’s time to work together once again. It’s time to see ourselves as one nation, indivisible. It’s time to choose sides ladies and gentlemen. Will we submit once again and elect forces of stagnation and the status quo? As voters, will be accomplices to the abuse that continues? Or will we have the courage to resist? Do we have the courage to revolt? To create real and lasting reforms in Springfield for generations to come? Or, will we allow the wealthy and the connected to buy our votes and then sell off our speech? We, the people, can take back control of our government, and most importantly, our voices. I know it sounds hard, but I also know that we can do it. Let’s get to work to keep the promise of our country. If we do these things, we can give our kids good jobs and long careers. We can keep them close to home. We can rebuild our state. We can keep the promise of America, and ensure the American Dream is the dream for all Americans. Thank you all very much.