After election day victory, Zimmerman looks toward future as county assessor

Jake Zimmerman

By David Baugher, Special to the Jewish Light

Rep. Jake Zimmerman may be a Democrat but he’s sure of one thing about his new job.

“There is not a Democratic or Republican way to assess a house,” he said. “There is just a right way.”

Zimmerman, 36, will get the chance to perfect that method as he serves in his new position as assessor of St. Louis County. State and local voters approved making the position, which is responsible for evaluating home values for tax purposes, an elected one late last year. Zimmerman, a state representative elected to his third term in November, won the election for his new job April 5, easily defeating Republican L.K. “Chip” Wood.

A graduate of Clayton High School and Harvard Law School, Zimmerman previously served as deputy chief legal counsel to former Gov. Bob Holden and as assistant attorney general under Jay Nixon, now Missouri’s governor. Zimmerman’s work in the latter office largely dealt with consumer protection matters.

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He has also been one of only five Jewish legislators presently in the Missouri General Assembly. Zimmerman admits he’ll miss his old duties representing the people of the 83rd District, which covers the Olivette area.

“It’s a little bit bittersweet,” he said. “I’ve had an amazing experience in public service in Jefferson City. But this is a big challenge and I’m ready to get to work.”

He views that work simply enough.

“My priority is to build an accountable and responsive assessor’s office that works with taxpayers and is committed to treating everybody fairly regardless of whether their home is worth $50,000 or $1 million,” he said.

He said his experience in trying to bring transparency and reform to government will be a significant help in the assessor’s position.

“There are tremendous challenges,” he said. “Creating a culture of customer service and accountability to the taxpayer in an office that hasn’t had an elected official at the top for decades is a substantial public management challenge.”

Zimmerman said he did a good deal of soul searching before deciding to go up for the job. He consulted many friends, including a number in the Jewish community, before making a final decision to run for the post.

“The overwhelming sentiment was ‘Go for it,'” he said. “‘You can make a difference.'”

Making a difference is also a big part of Zimmerman’s Jewish identity, he said. The B’nai Amoona congregant said that Judaic values have done a great deal to shape his career choices.

“My philosophy is that tikkun olam, the notion of repairing a damaged world, is a challenge that all of us have to find a way to meet in our lives,” he said. “For me, public service has been a part of that calling and I can’t imagine being a public servant without giving reference to the Jewish values that are very important to me.”

Zimmerman, whose own early commitment to public service included a White House internship, said that as he embarks on the new job, he will work hard to serve those who put him there.

“I’m proud to be a public representative of the Jewish community while representing everyone in my constituency,” he said. “Now to have the opportunity to do that for all the people of St. Louis County, I like to think that as long as I do a good job, people will be proud of me.”

Zimmerman said that the voters’ message in electing him isn’t the only one they sent. Last year’s decision to put the office on the ballot in the first place is also meaningful.

“The people of St. Louis County voted overwhelmingly to make this an elected position and I think they did that because they were looking for accountability and independence,” he said. “The idea of trying to reform this office and have a platform to bring more accountability to the million-plus human beings that this office serves is pretty exciting.”

The remaining members of the Jewish caucus in the Missouri legislature are Reps. Stacey Newman, Jill Schupp and Susan Carlson of the St. Louis area and Rep. Jason Kander of the Kansas City area.

Zimmerman said he could assume his duties as early as April 20 pending certification of the results. He will serve until at least 2014 when an election for a regular four-year term is scheduled.