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Evanston’s Local Election Board, on Dec. 16, heard further arguments in a dispute about the adequacy of nominating petitions filed by candidates in Evanston’s upcoming elections, but the proceedings were delayed until the morning of Dec. 19 after City Clerk Rodney Greene, a member of the Board, became ill during the session. On Dec. 19, the Local Election Board denied all of the objections.

Two panels had been hearing objections to three candidates for Mayor and one for City Clerk. The first panel, composed of Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl; Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward; and Clerk Greene, heard objections filed in the Mayoral race, while a second panel addressed a dispute over filings in the election of City Clerk. That panel was composed of Mayor Tisdahl, Ald. Rainey and Ald. Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward.

The objections in the Mayoral race largely centered around whether the candidates’ nominating petitions must say they are seeking to be on the ballot in the Feb. 28, 2017 Primary Election, or whether it is proper or adequate to say they are seeking to be on the ballot in the Consolidated Election on April 4, 2017. 

Evanston resident William Arndt, who contributed to the campaign of mayoral candidate Ninth Ward Alderman Brian Miller, filed objections to the nominating petitions filed by three other candidates – Sixth Ward Alderman Mark Tendam, Gary Gaspard, and Steve Hagerty – on the grounds that their nominating petitions allegedly fail to specify that the candidates are seeking to run in the Feb. 28, 2017 Consolidated Primary. He argued that filing nominating petitions to run in the primary is a prerequisite to running in the general election.

 On Dec. 16, attorneys for Mr. Arndt withdrew the objection to Ald. Tendam’s candidacy, likely because those nominating petitions asked that he be put on the ballot as a candidate for mayor in the Feb. 28 primary. 

On Dec. 16, attorneys for Mr. Arndt asked that they be allowed to introduce evidence relating to a 1992 referendum in which Evanston voters decided that a primary election must be held if more than two candidates are running for mayor. They said the referendum constituted further support for Mr. Arndt’s position that the nominating petitions of Mr. Gaspard and Mr. Hagerty were required to say they were seeking to be on the ballot in the Feb. 28 primary.

City Attorney Grant Farrar urged the Electoral Board not to allow Mr. Arndt’s attorney’s request to present evidence regarding the 1992 referendum, because they did not ask for a subpoena before seeking to submit the evidence, and that it was not part of the initial objections. The election panel decided to exclude the evidence.

City Clerk Greene, the keeper of the City’s records, had previously said that he had no knowledge of a referendum, and he cited a State statute that provides a primary election would be held only if more than four candidates were running for the same office.

Both Mr. Hagerty’s attorney and Mr. Gaspard argued they had no way of knowing whether there would be a primary or not, and that their nominating petitions were submitted in good faith and in substantial compliance with election laws.

At one point, Clerk Greene said that he wanted to play a voicemail message he had received in late November. Mr. Arndt’s attorneys objected, saying the message essentially amounted to new evidence, which Mr. Farrar had previously urged the Electoral Board to disallow. Mr. Arndt’s attorneys also repeatedly asked if Clerk Greene, one of the three judges on the Election Board panel, was seeking to introduce evidence. Mr. Farrar let the recording be played, but said the Board should not let its content influence their decision. There was no means to amplify the playback, but Clerk Greene suggested the message was from Ald. Miller.

Ald. Rainey asked the court reporter to type the entire message into the record.

Clerk Greene became ill as James Nally, Mr. Hagerty’s attorney, was making a closing argument. Board members said the rest of the meeting would then be delayed until Dec. 19.

 On Dec. 19, a quorum of the Local Election Board, composed of Mayor Tisdahl and Ald. Rainey, overruled the objections filed by Evanston resident Mr. Arndt to the nominating petitions of Mr. Gaspard and Mr. Hagerty for Mayor. Mr. Farrar summarized portions of the order entered, saying the petitions were in substantial compliance and clearly indicated that the candidates were seeking election in the April 4 Consolidated Election, which is the culminating election.

In finding there was “substantial compliance,” the panel cited 10 ILCS 3.1-20-45 which provides there shall be no primary if not more than four persons are seeking to be nominated for the same office, and said that as of the date of the decision, “the possibility of a Mayoral primary is still couched in the hypothetical, as only four mayoral candidates filed nominating papers. It is nonetheless undisputed that the April 4, 2017 Consolidated Municipal Election is the terminal election of this municipal election cycle. There is no determined need, at this time, to hold a February primary.” 

The decision did not reconcile that finding with the City’s 1992 Referendum, which provides a primary shall be held if more than two candidates are running for Mayor. At the time of its decision, there were four candidates seeking the office of Mayor. After a break in the proceedings, Mayor Tisdahl and Ald. Rainey also decided to reject the challenges to Devon Reid’s candidacy for City Clerk.

Larry Gavin

Larry Gavin was a co-founder of the Evanston RoundTable in 1998 and assisted in its conversion to a non-profit in 2021. He has received many journalism awards for his articles on education, housing and...