It’s been roughly three years since my great revelation about how to force Donald Trump to remove that god-awful sign he slapped on his tower.
And guess what? That awful sign is still there.
Proving again that Trump has more clout with Chicago Democrats than I do—January 6 insurrection and all.
Trump’s sign has been on my mind thanks to the great reporting in the Sun-Times by Tim Novak, who’s been unrelenting on this story. And relentless is what you have to be when you’re up against big-time players like Trump and Alderman Ed Burke.
A renowned tightwad, Trump began filing for tax breaks on the tower almost from the moment it was completed in 2009.
To help him fleece the taxpayers, Trump hired Burke, who in addition to once heading the council’s Finance Committee, ran a property tax appeal law firm.
As chair of the finance committee, Burke oversaw the expenditure of billions and billions of dollars.
So on one hand, Burke was raising your property taxes by green-lighting TIF deals. And on the other hand, he was raising your property taxes by fighting to make sure Donald Trump paid less in property taxes. After all, the less Trump pays, the more you have to pay to make up for it—suckers.
By Novak’s calculation, Burke won about $14 million in property tax breaks for Trump’s tower over the years.
Here’s a brief lesson on how that works . . .
Your property tax is determined by multiplying the tax rate by the assessed value of your property as calculated by the Cook County assessor.
Oh, God, this is boring. I’ve probably lost the interest of every reader in Reader land. No wonder Burke and Trump can get away with their bullshit.
As the tax rate is the same across the board, the big variable is a property’s assessment. The lower the assessment, the less you pay in taxes. If you feel the assessor has over-assessed your property’s value, you can appeal. As Burke did for Trump several times.
And here’s where the Trump/Burke alliance heads into chutzpah land—a faraway universe where shameless gall is rewarded and integrity is punished.
Burke argued that Trump should pay less in property taxes because the value of the retail and hotel operations in Trump Tower is worth less than what the assessor values it.
Burke says it’s worth less ’cause Trump can’t rent it. However . . .
I contend that the Burke argument is based on the fallacy that Trump and his confederates in business are doing everything they can to rent their property. But, of course, that’s not true because . . .
One of the biggest turnoffs to renting out space in Trump Tower—if not the biggest turnoff—is the freaking sign on the front of the building. You know, the one that says T-R-U-M-P.
Politically speaking, I’d argue that Trump is the most reviled name in Chicago. So what self-respecting merchant would want to set up shop in a building with Trump’s name on it?
That’s like trying to rent a building on the south side that has the letters KKK on the front.
Or trying to rent a building in Skokie with the name Goebbels on the front.
Or trying to rent . . . oh, you get the idea.
This sort of reminds me of the time that J.B. Pritzker—before he was governor—yanked out the toilets from his Gold Coast mansion and claimed a property tax break on the grounds that his mansion was uninhabitable.
When the story broke, Pritzker refunded the property tax break he’d received. But Republicans have been howling in outrage ever since.
Curiously, when it comes to Trump looking for a tax break even with that sign, Republicans have nothing to say.
That’s because Trump controls MAGA and MAGA controls the Republican Party. And the official position of any Illinois Republican (not named Adam Kinzinger) is that Trump is king.
Which is why all of the Republican candidates for governor are too chickenshit to denounce Trump for stirring up the January 6 insurrection.
I must note that Burke: 1) dropped Trump as a client; 2) lost his position as finance chair; 3) gave up his property tax business; and 4) got indicted by the feds for allegedly trying to force developers looking for TIF handouts to hire his property tax appeal business.
But in general, the Burke/Trump alliance underscores a painful irony about Chicago. We coddle Trump.
He mocks and maligns us, and still we give him gifts. We raise our taxes and lower his taxes. We pay more so he pays less. He’s so mean to us. And we’re so nice to him.
It’s almost enough to make me wish that Mayor Daley returned to office to dispatch city workers to yank that sign from Trump’s tower in the middle of the night. Just like he had city workers tear up Meigs Field in the middle of the night.
But then I remember it was Daley who installed Burke as finance chair. Just as Daley looked the other way when Burke started filing property tax appeals on Trump’s behalf.
So Daley’s about as useless in this fight as Mayor Rahm, who was the mayor who let Trump install that sign without a fight. After he, Rahm, took a $50,000 campaign contribution from Trump in 2010.
Anyway, thanks to Novak we know the Illinois Property Tax Appeal Board decided to reward Trump a $1 million property tax refund.
But Cook County state’s attorney Kim Foxx filed an appeal. The case may go to the Illinois Supreme Court. One of whose justices is Anne Burke, wife of Ed Burke. What a city. What a state.
Let’s see what matters most to Trump—his ego or his pocketbook?
In other words, here’s your choice, Donnie: The sign or the tax break. If you get one, you can’t have the other. v