PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Democratic congressional candidate Sarah Morgenthau continues to claim a homestead exemption on her single-family home in Washington, D.C., raising new questions on an issue that has dogged her campaign.
Target 12 has confirmed Morgenthau is receiving the tax break on her Highland Place NW home in the nation’s capital. The property is listed on Zillow as a 3,000-square-foot single-family house worth an estimated $3.2 million.
Officials in the D.C. Office of Tax and Revenue said the tax break is only allowed if the owner lives in Washington, owns the property and doesn’t live primarily at any other residence. They also said anyone who no longer qualifies for a homestead exemption is required to fill out a cancellation form, but they had no record of Morgenthau doing so as of Wednesday.
If the tax office determines Morgenthau and her family have been primarily living elsewhere, the candidate would have to pay back taxes in D.C. totaling however much relief she received during the time the home wasn’t her principal residence, the officials said.
Separately, the North Kingstown assessor’s office said Morgenthau and her family are not claiming the town’s newly established homestead exemption. The policy provides a 5% pre-tax reduction on the assessed value of all residential property that is the “principal residence” of the owner.
Bryan McNamara, Morgenthau’s campaign manager, acknowledged her residency status for tax purposes but said she is changing it now.
“Sarah will be receiving the homestead exemption in North Kingstown moving forward,” McNamara told Target 12 on Wednesday. “She was serving her country in D.C. as a presidential appointee in the Biden administration prior to the deadline for this year.”
Morgenthau’s Rhode Island bona fides have been under scrutiny ever since she tossed her hat into the ring to replace outgoing Congressman Jim Langevin. She is one of six Democrats running in the primary, along with Omar Bah, Joy Fox, Seth Magaziner, Cameron Moquin and David Segal.
“Sarah Morgenthau is a proud resident of North Kingstown, Rhode Island,” McNamara said, “and is proud to be running for the same seat her mother, Ruth Morgenthau, ran for in 1988, when Sarah and her brother Ben managed her campaign.” (Ruth Morgenthau lost to Republican Claudine Schneider.)
A former top official at the U.S. Commerce Department, Morgenthau has spent her career living primarily outside of Rhode Island. But she claims personal ties to the state and 2nd District because her family for decades has had a summer residence in Saunderstown, a village of North Kingstown.
“I have been paying property taxes in the 2nd District for 40 years,” Morgenthau said in April during an interview on 12 News at 4.
She acknowledged then that she’d never lived in Rhode Island full time and had never enrolled her children at schools in the state. She registered to vote in North Kingstown in early February, listing the Saunderstown property as her residence. But she emphasized that she got married there.
“This is a very, very special place and it’s home for us — it truly is,” she said.
Morgenthau also downplayed how important the issue of residency is to voters.
“The people I meet are looking for somebody with experience,” she said. “My track record of working on issues that are important, that are relevant to folks in the 2nd Congressional district — there’s a hunger for that.”
The 12 News at 4 appearance attracted the attention of The New York Times, which described the interview as “a brutal encounter” that raised questions about whether Morgenthau’s campaign was prepared to withstand attacks on her as a “carpetbagger.”
A 12 News/Roger Williams University poll in early May showed Magaziner with a wide lead over Morgenthau and the other Democrats in the 2nd District race. The survey showed half of 2nd District Democratic primary voters were still undecided.
Morgenthau has the most campaign cash of any Democrat other than Magaziner, and she began running campaign ads on TV just after the poll was conducted.
On the Republican side, Allan Fung is facing off against Robert Lancia. The primary is Sept. 13.
Ted Nesi (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a Target 12 investigative reporter and 12 News politics/business editor. He co-hosts Newsmakers and writes Nesi’s Notes on Saturdays. Connect with him on Twitter and Facebook