Ousted city assessor runs for Cook County position

Chris Kirk

Evanston Township Assessor Sharon Eckersall, known for her continual conflicts with the City Council, filed as a Republican candidate for Cook County assessor Monday.

If elected, Eckersall will guide the reassessment of property in Evanston and other northern suburbs in 2010.

“There is so much turmoil down at Cook County,” she said.

“I feel a need to have change down there at the moment, and I feel I’m qualified to do it.”

Since being appointed by former Mayor Lorraine Morton in 1998, Eckersall has had a tense relationship with aldermen – especially former Ald. Steve Bernstein (4th).

“I don’t think she’s competent,” Bernstein told The Daily in April. “So basically I just want her gone.”

Eckersall said politics explained the divisiveness between her and a predominately Democratic council.

“They’re all Democratic,” she said. “I don’t see eye-to-eye with them.”

Bernstein declined comment Tuesday.

Further exacerbating tensions, former employees of Eckersall filed three lawsuits against her after she fired them, costing the city $300,000 in legal fees.

She said these lawsuits reflect her hostility with the city council, not her effectiveness as township assessor.

“None of these lawsuits are a result of my management,” she said. “They’re all a result of city council problems.”

An appellate judge dismissed the first lawsuit, and the second was resolved, finding Eckersall not at fault. The third lawsuit is pending.

Though she was elected twice as township assessor, she was ousted by Bonnie Wilson in elections earlier this year.

Wilson garnered 72 percent of the vote, compared with Eckersall’s 28 percent.

Eckersall said she lost the race because of the Democratic political machine in Evanston.

“Our party here has not been that strong in Evanston, but I think we’re coming back,” she said.

The city council tried to swear in Wilson in April, but Eckersall invoked a state law to retain her office until Dec. 31.

If elected, she said she may also try to mitigate property taxes by pushing for greater income taxes, which is advocated by James M. Houlihan, the current assessor.

“We just can’t keep doing what we’re doing,” Eckersall said. “Every time we turn around, the city wants to increase it (property taxes). The taxpayers are taxed out at this point.”

Eckersall said she also wants to clarify the assessment process.

“I would like to streamline it and make it more basic so that everyone can understand what they’re being taxed for and how we’re coming up with the numbers,” she said.

Further, she said she would push the county to require that the chief assessment officer be certified.

Currently, Cook County is one of two counties in Illinois that does not require the officer to be a certified Illinois assessing officer, which Eckersall said she thinks is wrong. The policy, she said, allows inexperienced candidates to fill the position.

The ballot will be announced Nov. 2.

[email protected]