In a surprise 11th-hour ruling that drastically alters the ballot in the 28th Ward aldermanic race, an Illinois appellate court decided Friday that one candidate’s name should be removed and another cannot be reinstated.
Carmelita P. Earls, commander of operations for the Chicago Fire Department’s Training Academy, and Michael Stinson, pastor of the First General Assembly Church in Englewood, are ineligible for office because they owe money to the city or county, a three-judge panel in the 1st District Illinois Appellate Court ruled.
While the ruling on Stinson’s candidacy was not a surprise – he had been taken off the ballot by a circuit court judge last month and had appealed the decision – Earls’ removal seemed to blindside almost everyone involved, including the candidate herself.
Earls said Saturday she didn’t know an objection was still pending against her. Neither did her lawyer, she said.
“I’m just as confused as everyone else,” Earls said. “It’s a shame that you have to hear this news on the street.”
Stinson’s camp vowed again to fight the ruling: “Don’t go to sleep on this yet,” said Stinson supporter and community activist Virgil Crawford. “We’re going to open the gates of hell.”
Stinson said he was frustrated the timing of the ruling – immediately before a holiday weekend (Monday is Presidents’ Day) and Election Day – leaving no time for further appeal.
That timetable also makes it “physically impossible” to re-print ballots and re-program touch-screens, said James Allen, spokesman for the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners. Instead, voters in the 28th Ward will be handed cards, printed in English and Spanish, explaining that Earls is “no longer a candidate” and “votes for her will not be counted.” (Here’s what the card will look like.)
Absentee or early votes already cast for Earls will not be counted, Allen said, and people who voted for Earls cannot submit another vote.
Stinson’s name will not appear at all, since his candidacy was revoked Jan. 28, before ballots were printed.
Friday’s ruling is another victory for Ervin, who, one month into his City Council career, is poised to win a full four-year term. Objections against Ervin’s competitors – filed by one of his staffers, 28th Ward community service coordinator Eileen Jackson – succeeded in kicking or nudging all but one of his opponents off the ballot, increasing the odds that he will win more than 50 percent of the vote on Tuesday, enabling him to avoid a run-off.
Earlier in the race, candidates Carol Johnson and Erick Von Kondrat were removed because of Jackson’s objections. Velda Brunner and Shawn Walker withdrew their nominations during the objections process, and David Young and James Ogden defaulted by failing to show up for their objection hearings.
The only candidate still standing – Siegmund – is the candidate against whom Ervin’s staffer did not object.
Jackson filed numerous objections against Earls and Stinson, but in both cases, the one that stuck hinged on a 2008 Illinois Supreme Court ruling that is quietly changing the face of election politics. Cinkus v. Village of Stickney Municipal Officers Electoral Board found that candidates must be free and clear of debts to the municipality when they sign their candidacy paperwork.
It was outstanding parking tickets that snagged Stinson, though he continues to deny the debt. Stinson’s attorney, Adam Lasker, pointed to reportedly scant evidence of the tickets and argued that Stinson had never been notified he owed the money.
But Circuit Court Judge Robert Bertucci, and now the appellate court judges, found that regardless of whether Stinson was notified, the debt’s existence still makes him ineligible for office.
Lasker says that interpretation is “dangerous” and could have wide-reaching implications for candidates, especially in smaller communities, who will now be at the mercy of powerful incumbents who can fabricate debt against their opponents.
The objection against Earls focused on outstanding property taxes on a home she owned but does not live in – the result of claiming two homeowners’ exemptions. Earls won the case in circuit court, arguing in part that the debt was not relevant, since it was owed to the county and not the city, where she was running for office.
But Jackson’s final appeal won out. One argument used by Jackson’s attorney was that Earls’ debt to the county should count, because those property tax dollars are eventually dispersed into city coffers, according to Lasker, who is familiar with the case.