Evanston mayoral candidate Jeff Smith has filed challenges to the petitions submitted by the other four candidates in the mayor’s race, seeking to have them all kicked off the ballot.

The challenges, filed late Tuesday at the City Clerk’s office, claim the other candidates failed to file their petitions during the legally appropriate time period.

City Clerk Rodney Greene had declared that the appropriate filing period was from Dec. 12 to 19. But after one mayor candidate, 9th Ward Alderman Brian Miller, insisted that the correct filing period was from Nov. 21 to 28, Greene agreed to accept his petitions then, but also kept the December dates open as another filing period.

Fearful that if Miller’s argument about the correct dates prevailed they would be unable to get on the ballot, the other candidates for mayor — businessman Steve Hagerty, 6th Ward Alderman Mark Tendam, and former Township Supervisor Gary Gaspard — all rushed to file their petitions by Nov. 28 — as did the city clerk candidates and most candidates for alderman.

But Smith held back, waiting to file his papers in December.

The question of the appropriate filing period intersects with provisions in the state election code that call — under some circumstances — for holding a primary election in February, ahead of the general municipal election in April.

Evanston has not had a primary in recent years, but is now scheduled to have one because of the large field of candidates in the mayoral and 5th Ward aldermanic races.

Earlier this month a Miller supporter tried to boot Gaspard, Hagerty and Tendam from the ballot, claiming they hadn’t specified the correct dates for the election on their petitions.

The Miller backer ultimately withdrew the objection to Tendam’s petitions, and the city’s Electoral Board dismissed the challenges to Hagerty and Gaspard’s petitions, concluding there was no confusion about whether the candidates were running for mayor and that the confusion about the date of the election was immaterial to the issue of whether they were properly qualified to be on the ballot.

Smith has not responded to an email this morning from Evanston Now seeking more information about his decision to challenge his opponents right to appear on the ballot..

During a hearing on the earlier challenges Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl, the chair of the electoral board, said the city has a long tradition of promoting access to the ballot.

A date for an Electoral Board hearing on Smith’s challenge has not yet been set.

Update 2:20 p.m.: In a news release issued this afternoon, Smith also argues that the city has been unable to produce an ordinance declaring that its elections are nonpartisan, and he claims that, without proof of the nonpartisan form of city elections, holding a primary for mayor is not appropriate under state law.

Evanston municipal elections in practice have been conducted without partisan labels for generations.

He further makes arguements about the details of the filings by the individual candidates that appear to be akin to, though not identical to, those the Electoral Board previously dismissed.

Update 4:25 p.m.: Mayoral candidate Steve Hagerty, responding to Smith’s action, said that he’s “100 percent confident” that the new challenge to the candidate petitions will be dismissed by the Electoral Board as the previous one was.

“I believe the Evanston voters themselves should have the choice to decide who they want to be their Mayor,” Hagerty added, “They should certainly not be limited to one candidate.”

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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  1. A clerk who can’t do his job

    This is a perfect example of what happens when you have a city clerk who can’t do his job. People may knock Miller and Smith, but the fact if the matter is that all of these issues are a result of Clerk Greene being completely clueless. Things get out of control and this is just the beginning if we allow this to continue. 

    I haven’t heard much from his challenger to give me much faith he is anymore competent though, so I am concerned. 

    1. I disagree…

      It is my impression that the City Corporation Counsel is responsible for interpreting the law and disseminating his findings and not the City Clerk. After ignoring requests for clarification of the law, the City Corporation Counsel did finally make a vague statement at the Electoral Board that was unsatisfactory in resolution of the issue. Apparently, Mr. Smith, who has made and extensive study of the matter, has a point to make that will ultimately have to be resolved; perhaps in a Court of Law. By challenging the slate of candidates approved by the Electoral Board, Mr. Smith is underscoring what we have known all along. That is, that elections in Evanston have not always been conducted in a manner that is in congruence with state law. 

      Smith also raises the question question of open participation by the Democratic and Republican Parties not only in municipal elections but also interjecting themselves in what are clearly nonpartisan school board elections. was we have seen over the years. Evanston has no ordinance, as required by law, outlining the nature of local elections and the involvement of political parties, nonpartisan or otherwise. 

      It would seem, at this point, that a complete review of Illinois Statutory Election Law, as it relates to the City of Evanston and the City’s lack of clarity on most issues presented by Mr. Smith should be conducted under the guidance of the State Board of Elections. In this manner, the City might finally have a set of electoral ordinances that everyone can understand. My point on this was ignored by those who would try turn these legal questions into political hammers to strike down their opponents. What a sad attempt to use a legitimate concern for political advantage. It is clear that no one really knows the law as it relates to elections in the City of Evanston. Raising these questions relates to good government and equality before the law. For me, that has been the point of this process from the very beginning when we could not get the Corporation Counsel to even respond to inquiries on the matter. Mr. Smith is to be commended in seeking a definitive legal context. Neither the City Clerk nor the Electoral Board are culpable as they can only be as good as their legal advisors.

  2. Decide for yourself

    The Miller challenges had one or two sentences of substance each and only contested the lack of the Feb. 28 filing date on papers. The new challenges raise more serious issues, and an opposite argument, that the Feb. 28 primary is inappropriate, as was the Nov. filing period, and that the three different forms and dates of the 4 candidates challenged just fail to meet basic legal requirements to let voters know, when petitioning, what election you’re running for and how you’re running. Residents can view the actual objection documents here and decide for themselves. Note, no one is kicking anyone off anything: right now, no one is on the ballot. Someone who wants to be has to file correct paperwork, just like getting a passport or a loan. A main goal of these laws is to prevent the type of confusion that now exists in Evanston.

    1. Nice to see this being addressed

      I’m glad you’re addressing the cloudy/fuzzy interpretation and enforcement of the legislation on local elections, as it’s sorely needed. In a best-case scenario, what would be the outcome of your challenges?

    2. Now a second candidate decides he knows better than the voters.

      This is the most shameful behavior I have seen in a local election yet, and I can’t believe it continues.

      Evanston should be promoting contested races, not trying to remove choice by hiding behind confusion that has nothing to do with the validity of candidates. I doubt sincerely that any resident who signed a petition for the Mayoral race had any confusion about what they were signing, even if the dates offered by the City are wrong and there isn’t clarity about the partisan issue. The first issue, in my opinion, isn’t relevant to the position of Mayor, and the second has never come up in past races and therefore has no bearing until after the position is clarified – so, no bearing in this race. Contrary to the way you’re presenting it, it’s clear you want to make the race easier for yourself rather than addressing substantive problems with the validity of your opponents’ candidacy. 

      I will give you at least some points for not going through a proxy, but this isn’t a board game. Candidates who use the letter of the law to create an uncontested race are also likely to use the letter of the law to do end-runs around the citizenry in other ways. Fortunately, if all these objections get thrown out the way they should be, we now have two candidates who have given the public excellent reasons to vote against them.

      Stop this. Let the voters decide who should be Mayor. 

      1. And let’s name them, shall we?

        “….we now have two candidates who have given the public excellent reasons to vote against them.”

        Jeff Smith, and Brian Miller….

      2. There are rules. They need clarification.

        There are rules for getting on the ballot. I want my elected officials to be sure that they can follow the rules. How can I trust that they will file official city documents in accordance with the law if they can’t get themselves on the ballot. If we don’t want to enforce the laws for getting candidates on the ballot and believe that everyone who wants should be on the ballot, why even have rules for doing so. Just let everyone turn in their name and 50 signatures anytime in the 3 months before the ballot is printed.

        A number of the questions around filing need clarification. I don’t think that having them clarified at the filing deadline date is the correct time, and I disagree that corporation counsel should give legal advice when he advises the Electoral Board. The attorneys that Mssrs Miller, Tendam and Hagerty have employed should do legal research and seek counsel from the county or state when necessary. None of the members of the Electoral Board are attorneys (excepting Ms Wynne, when she substitutes) and rely on using common sense to sort legal arguments. I think the Board has worked to keep candidates on the ballot, but the questions around filing still remain.

        “Now a second candidate decides he knows better than the voters.” “Candidates who use the letter of the law to create an uncontested race are also likely to use the letter of the law to do end-runs around the citizenry in other ways.” Statements like this do little to further disagreements. As I recall a certain young state senator won his first election in 1996 by having his three opponents removed from the ballot, letting him run unopposed. Do you believe that Pres. Obama knew better than the voters in his district and has done end-runs around the citizens? Some would argue he has, but many would argue he hasn’t.

        There has been shameful behavior from several candidates for elected office this year, and we haven’t even reached the real campaign yet. From mayoral candidates attempting to make city staff look bad to candidates for alderman campaigning from the lectern during public comment at city council meetings, we are in for a long three months ahead. 

      3. Rules are made for a reason

        As someone who once ran for alderman, I can testify that the petition process is/was confusing. I remember waiting (almost first) in line to submit my signatures, only to be told I was missing some obscure form and had to go back home and lose my place in line. Since it seems every Tom, Dick, and Harry is running for mayor, it is important that the ground rules be understood. With 5 potential candidates (as Smith points out, nobody is an official candidate yet), the difference between having one election or a primary and an election is a big one. Of course, the voters will decide. But we need to know what the choices are.

  3. It’s absurd that this is what the race has come to

    Is our city so poorly run that something as simple as electing a Mayor creates this much confusion?  I mean, the law is the law.  What could possibly be the problem here?

    If it takes a lawsuit from Smith to force the city to settle this, then fine.  I certainly hope the candidates are allowed to stay on the ballot, but I also want someone to have a definitive answer on how an election should be conducted.  Confusing and contradictory rules make it harder for outsider candidates to run, and only oppose the ideals of transparent democracy.

    If this is an attempt to force the clerk to make a definitive decision, then kudos.  If this is a real attempt to run unopposed, then shame on him.  I’ve met the man, I support him, and I’m certain this is the former.

    So will the City set clear rules so we can get this embarrassment behind us and focus on real issues?

    1. Intent is key
      While it does appear that Smith’s intent is not to remove candidates from the ballot, but to clarify the rules, I would like a statement from Smith to that effect. Until then, I expect to see comments falsely equivocating these ballot challenges with Miller’s.

      1. There is intent on J Smith actions

        Smith wants to have the other candidate’s filings for mayor invalid.  He wants to run uncontested.  If the referenum is confusing, maybe after the election it needs to be clarified.  However, I find it to be clear cut.  City of Berkeley has a referenum that is the same.  Smith’s claim is that the referenum is confusing and should be a primary Feb AND an April election.   In addition, there seemed to be confusing information on the filing date.  Everyone running for office filed in November.  Smith filed in December.   My question is: if the filing date was supposed to be December, why did the clerk accept the applications for all the candidates in November?

  4. It’s how they roll

    Even before the year ends, there have been two separate petitions filed to kick off the ballot some of the mayoral candidates. But why is anyone surprised?

    All the candidates are Democrats and this is the way of Chicago-style politics and the Democratic party machine. Remember when Democratic party activists on behalf of Robyn Gabel kicked off the ballot her only challenger, Libertarian Steve Funk? Funk had 3,300 signatures and needed only 2,561. Gabel ran unopposed in her first congressional general election.

    There are so many more examples.

    What surprises me is of the five mayoral candidates there are no women or Hispanics. I thought Evanston loves diversity.

  5. Mr. Smith’s antics are enough

    Mr. Smith’s antics are enough to rule him out as an option for me. 

    1. Mr. Smith

      I’m not voting for Mr. Smith because, ala Michael Madigan, he’s trying to use arcane rules to eliminate competition. Mr. Smith wrote, “[The candidates] fail to meet basic legal requirements to let voters know, when petitioning, what election you’re running for and how you’re running.” Okay, so a person asks me to sign a petition so he can run for Evanston mayor, but the dates are wrong, thus I’m hopelessly confused what he’s running for. Really? I find it hard to believe he thinks Evanstonians are that stupid, so I conclude he’s trying to game the system, and I don’t want a person like that as mayor. Simple.

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