Zimmerman, Wood vie to be county’s first-ever elected assessor

Candidates discuss their qualifications at forum.

Rep. Jake Zimmerman

Rep. Jake Zimmerman

By EVAN YOUNG

Two candidates are seeking the position of St. Louis County’s first-ever elected assessor.

State Rep. Jake Zimmerman, D-Olivette, and Republican candidate L.K. “Chip” Wood of Concord are running for the office in the Tuesday, April 5, election.

Asked in a Call questionnaire to identify the most important issue in the race, the candidates responded:

• “This position is about making the assessments fair and the assessor’s office accountable to St. Louis County families,” Zimmerman said. “I put together my FAIR Plan for St. Louis County homeowners. FAIR stands for: fair, accountable, independent, responsive.

“Fair — I will make sure that assessments are fair. If the value of your home goes down, so should your assessment. Accountable — I will not allow drive by assessments. My staff will get out of the car and examine every property.

“Independent — There is not a Democratic or a Republican way to assess a house, only the fair way,” Zimmerman said. “Politicians will not use assessments as back door tax increases. Responsive — you’ll have the phone number of the staff member assigned to your case and you’ll always have someone there to pick up the phone and answer your questions.”

• “Since 2002 the St. Louis County assessor’s office has been fleecing taxpayers,” Wood said. “Two years ago the Legislature gave the voters an opportunity to amend our state constitution to elect an assessor in St. Louis County. My Democrat opponent and his party twice voted no to reject this amendment denying St. Louis Countians the right to vote for their assessor.

“Last August over 73 percent of the voters overwhelmingly approved the County Council’s ballot language, forcing Mr. Dooley to give up his political assessor and let the taxpayers own the assessor’s office … Over the past six years property values have plunged, but the county government’s ‘assessed values’ have increased and forced county taxes to go higher, threatening families and especially senior citizens from being able to afford to live in their St. Louis County homes.

“I will fight for the taxpayer to lower their assessments and taxes. I will go up against the status quo in county government and stop their higher taxes — an advocate for the taxpayers. I am the only candidate that does not have any political ties to the county executive.”

Zimmerman, 36, 9046 Old Bonhomme Road, 63132, has been the state representative for the 83rd District since 2007. He previously served as deputy chief legal counsel to former Gov. Bob Holden and as assistant attorney general under Jay Nixon.

Zimmerman is a Harvard Law School graduate. He has a fiancee, Megan.

Wood, 56, 4604 Butler Bend Court, 63128, is a real estate broker and owns L.K. Wood Realtors. He and his wife, Martha, have six children. Wood has never held elective office.

The candidates offered their platforms and took questions from the public at a forum that took place last week at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. The League of Women Voters sponsored the event, which drew roughly 50 people.

One audience member asked the two to discuss their qualifications to be assessor.

Wood said, “Thirty-seven years assessing real estate — that’s what I do. I’ve been dealing with the public, thousands and thousands and thousands of them. My livelihood and my family’s history is all about that one single job, folks: Assessing property, keeping customers satisfied, winning people’s good will, faith and confidence. And I want to take what I’ve learned in the private sector and bring it to this job.”

Zimmerman said he fought consumer fraud as assistant attorney general and advocated as a legislator for programs that lessen the property-tax burden on senior citizens on a fixed income.

“What I bring to the campaign for St. Louis County assessor is I’ve stood up for people in St. Louis County … That’s my public service history and that’s a record I’m proud to run on,” Zimmerman said.

Both Zimmerman and Wood said they opposed drive-by assessments of property and vowed that their staff would give taxpayers a “fair shake” on assessment appeals. However, they were quick to point out that the assessor’s office has no control over property-tax rates — only the assessed valuations on which those rates are based.

The candidates were asked about their campaign contributors. Neither identified specific donors but expressed appreciation to their supporters. Wood later noted that Zimmerman’s campaign had a sizable financial edge over his own and compared the two to “David and Goliath.” In their most recent campaign finance reports, Zimmerman’s committee stated it had roughly $236,000 cash on-hand, while Wood’s committee reported having roughly $12,000 cash.

Zimmerman fielded a question about his voting in the General Assembly against placing a constitutional amendment before Missouri voters regarding the election of a county assessor.

“What sticks in my gut is when politicians in Jefferson City try to tell folks in St. Louis County what decisions we make and when we need to make them,” he said, adding that county voters are capable of making up their own minds, as evidenced by the county vote on the assessor issue in the primary election last August.

But Wood said, “I don’t care where a good idea comes from folks. You should work with it. It was a great idea to bring this to the people of St. Louis County and I would’ve supported it every step of the way. I’m totally confused as to why anyone would block a good idea anywhere, anytime.”

Zimmerman’s campaign later suggested Wood was hypocritical in criticizing Zimmerman’s Jefferson City voting record because his own shows Wood did not vote in last August’s primary when the assessor issue was on the county ballot. Wood also has missed most municipal elections, according to his voting record.

Wood told the Call his “tough schedule” has kept him from participating in every election but admitted he “should’ve done a better job.” However, Wood noted he has voted in most “major” elections, including last November, when the elected assessor issue was on the statewide ballot.

Wood’s supporters have called into question how independent Zimmerman, if elected, would be from Dooley, a fellow Democrat. One critic, County Councilman Greg Quinn, R-Ballwin, even suggested Zimmerman was “hand-picked” by Dooley to run for the assessor’s office, citing two shared campaign staffers.

Quinn noted in a recent interview that the Dooley campaign’s finance director, Michael Coleman, now is the Zimmerman campaign’s finance director. Another former Dooley campaign staffer, field director Jonathan Boesch, now is the Zimmerman campaign’s field director.

Zimmerman confirmed both Coleman and Boesch are working for his campaign but dismissed the allegation that he wouldn’t be an independent assessor. He noted several of his campaign staff previously have worked for the campaigns of prominent Democrats, including Secretary of State Robin Carnahan and President Barack Obama.

“Neither Barack Obama nor Robin Carnahan nor Charlie Dooley controls my campaign …,” Zimmerman told the Call. “Everybody has friends and supporters and I’m honored to have the support that I do. But I’m Jake Zimmerman, and I didn’t get into this game to be anybody’s puppet.”