Zimmerman wins first county assessor's race in 51 years

2011-04-06T00:00:00Z 2012-12-18T17:27:20Z Zimmerman wins first county assessor's race in 51 yearsBY PAUL HAMPEL • phampel@post-dispatch.com > 314-727-6234 stltoday.com

Democrat Jake Zimmerman scored an easy victory over Republican L.K. "Chip" Wood on Tuesday in the race to become the first elected assessor in St. Louis County in more than 50 years.

Zimmerman's victory consolidates Democratic control of the three countywide elected positions - executive, prosecutor and now assessor.

In a victory speech to supporters at the Seven Gables Inn in Clayton, Zimmerman attributed his win to the work of his volunteers. "They communicated one-on-one on the phone and at the doorbell with tens of thousands of voters in St. Louis County," he said.

Then, he offered an olive branch to Wood. "When the heat of this campaign settles, I'd be willing to sit down and hear his ideas because he had some darn good ones for making the St. Louis County assessor's office a better place."

Speaking from his headquarters in south St. Louis County, Wood said he was proud of what he had achieved.

"I think the numbers we put on the board were pretty good considering that we raised only $45,000 and were going up against a guy who raised hundreds of thousands," Wood said.

He accepted Zimmerman's offer to meet and exchange ideas.

"That's the only reason I got into this race in the first place - to improve the assessment process."

Voter turnout was low - 17 percent of the county's 692,289 registered voters.

Wood, 56, of south St. Louis County, is chairman of a real estate company.

Zimmerman, 36, is a state representative from Olivette and a lawyer.

The assessor's office has been the focus of controversy for years. In 2001, it was the "drive-by inspections," in which some reassessment workers claimed to have done more than 1,000 home inspections in a single day. Two years ago, many homeowners fixed blame on the assessor when their property tax bills did not drop as their property values had. (Taxing districts, particularly school districts, raised their tax rates, wiping out any hoped-for savings.)

Those factors obviously contributed to the 74 percent majority county vote in August to make the office elective rather than appointive.

And while many voters may have cast ballots hoping that the outcome would affect their taxes, both candidates made it clear from the start that the tax issue would be beyond their control, as a drop in values can be neutralized by a rise in tax rates.

As of last week, Zimmerman had raised $315,234 and had spent $377,825, with much of the money carried over from his state representative campaigns.

Wood had reported raising $45,964 and spending $30,248.

In the early days of the campaign, the rivals set an amiable tone. They greeted each other warmly at public forums and even exchanged compliments.

That tone faded later as both campaigns traded barbs.

Zimmerman's supporters uncovered that Wood was two years behind on real estate taxes in St. Louis and twice was late paying county personal property taxes.

Wood's allies countered by circulating assessment records for the home of Zimmerman's father, which saw a bigger drop in value compared with nearby homes. The Wood camp questioned whether county officials gave the elder Zimmerman preferential treatment.

Zimmerman will be sworn in later this month.

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