Evanston’s Electoral Board early this evening rejected the final two challenges to an advisory referendum on the future of the Harley Clarke mansion, clearing the way for the question to appear on November’s election ballot.

The unanimous votes came after backers of the referendum, led by their attorney, John Walsh, unsuccessfully sought to have Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, removed from the panel, claiming she was biased against preserving the mansion.

Had Rainey been removed, the next most senior alderman on the City Council, Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, would have been in line to replace Rainey, and the referendum backers apparently saw her as more favorable to their views.

Ann Rainey.

Rainey had joined the other two members of the board — Mayor Steve Hagerty and Clerk Devon Reid — in rejecting the first challenge to the referendum last week — so it was not clear why the referendum backers felt the need to try to boot Rainey from the panel — filing motions to do so just an hour before the scheduled 4 p.m. start of today’s board session.

Rainey was the only member who was on the electoral board during last year’s contentious mayoral race, and joined the other members then in rejecting challenges to the petitions of various mayoral candidates — opting to let the voters decide, as the board did today.

The audience at the Electoral Board hearing.

The board ended up rejecting the second objection, filed by Thomas Witt, 2-1 on the technical grounds that it failed to meet the statutory requirements for objections because Witt failed to include his street address on the face of the objection, although it did appear on a receipt from the clerk’s office that accompanied the petition.

Streaming video of the board’s meeting from Dan Coyne.

Rainey voted against dismissing that objection on that technical ground.

But when the board reached the substance of the objections in the third objection, submitted by Rosemary O’Neil, Matt Rodgers, Paula Twilling and David Leitschuh, Rainey made the motion, approved unanimously by the board to reject it.

David Leitschuh.

Leitschuh argued that that the referendum question’s reference to “minimal” cost for preserving the mansion was vague and that the wording was otherwise misleading.

Mayor Steve Hagerty said he believed the referendum should go forward, but said, given the likely confusion about the meaning of “minimal” it’s not clear that the phrasing is helpful for those who want the referendum to pass.

Steve Hagerty.

“This is an issue this community has struggled with for a long time,” Hagerty said. “My sense is that people would like to see the mansion saved. The issue is all about how to save it. And I’m not sure this referendum answers that question.”

Related story

Board rejects first objection to mansion referendum (8/14/18)

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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