Days away from election, ballot case still not resolved

Court might still hear the case, but decision could follow Election Day

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By Timothy Inklebarger

Staff Reporter

There's less than a week left before the April 4 municipal election when Oak Parkers will choose their representatives for the village board, school board, library board, and others — but it's still uncertain whether three candidates will remain on the ballot.

Five candidates are running for three open seats on the Oak Park Board Trustees and five more are running for the village clerk position; an unprecedented 10 candidates are running for the library board. It's a stark contrast from the uncontested trustee race in 2015, when the three village trustee candidates — Adam Salzman, Bob Tucker and Andrea Button-Ott — all endorsed by the Village Manager Association (VMA), ran unopposed.

This election cycle's been a tougher run for the nonprofit VMA, which vets and slates candidates for public office. For the first time in the organization's history, it was unable to find enough candidates to complete a full slate. The organization, whose candidates have historically swept into office with little challenge, was also unable to secure a candidate to run against Village President Anan Abu-Taleb.

The incomplete slate — incumbent trustees Glenn Brewer and Peter Barber and clerk candidate Lori Malinski — have also faced an ongoing and costly challenge to its nominating petition, which they say has cost them time and money that could have been used in the campaign.

Barber and Brewer face political newcomers Dan Moroney, Deno Andrews and Simone Boutet, while Malinksi faces Elia Gallegos, James Robinson-Parran, Victoria Scaman and Masaru Takiguchi.

The nominating petition challengers, Kevin Peppard and Bob Milstein, have argued that Malinski, Barber and Brewer, collected their nominating petition signatures improperly as a group and did not collect enough signatures in the first place — each candidate needed 251 signatures individually, but the three candidates instead collected 735 signatures as a group. Peppard and Milstein, represented by attorney Burt Odelson of Odelson & Sterk, have consistently lost at each level in their ballot challenge, with a local election board and subsequent appeals courts ruling in favor of the candidates.

Most recently, Peppard and Milstein have petitioned the Illinois Supreme Court to hear the case, but it's still uncertain if the state's highest court will accept the case or let the lower court ruling stand.

On March 24, the state's highest court rejected a motion to expedite deliberation on Peppard and Milstein's lawsuit.

The decision to deny the motion to expedite could be good news for the candidates, according to their attorney Brian Wojcicki.

"We're hoping it's a sign that sooner or later we'll hear from the court that the petition [for the court to hear the case] is denied," Wojcicki said.

He added that the court could soon announce its decision or it could come after the election itself.

The Supreme Court also ruled against a motion that would instruct Cook County Clerk David Orr to not count votes until after the court makes a final decision on the case. 

That means that if the Supreme Court does take the case, votes will be counted and a winner will be announced once those votes are certified. 

If the court does take the case, deliberation could extend beyond April 4, which means that if Barber, Brewer and Malinski win, the decision could be reversed if the court later determined they should have not been on the ballot in the first place.

Odelson could not immediately be reached for comment.

CONTACT: tim@oakpark.com

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