A funny thing happened on Vic Guarino’s way to the ballot for re-election to the park district board in Oak Park.
He faced a petition to throw him off the ballot orchestrated by his opponent — park district board candidate, current library board member and perennial candidate for everything in Oak Park — Bruce Samuels, along with Oak Park resident Theresa Tedesso Greene. Greene also sought to throw Kevin Ochalla off the park district ballot. Ochalla surrendered and withdrew his name in January.
Before we talk about the challenge to Guarino’s nominating petitions, let’s review a little history.
There is a nasty little corner of the law related to elections. If you don’t think you can win an election, then you visit lawyers who specialize in ballot challenges.
These lawyers tend to work out of decrepit offices next to meat markets and cell phone stores. They normally represent small time criminals. Come election season, they become the mandarins of election hearings. They have a bag of legal tricks to make sure that only the “right” candidates stay on the ballot.
Judicial elections are rife with this gamesmanship. Put in your name to run as a Cook County circuit judge and, unless you are approved by the powers that be in the Democratic Party, you will face a legal challenge to your petitions.
Eagle-eyed lawyers spot that a signer has an address from outside the judicial circuit. Each signature is compared to the signature on record. Anything that looks a teensy bit different is challenged. Reams of proof are produced.
This is why judicial candidates collect two or three times the number of needed signatures.
This gamesmanship has never really gone on in Oak Park local elections until now (although you might remember when Les Golden was challenged for trying to run as Les “Cut the Taxes” Golden).
In Oak Park, we rely on a steady flow of honest, hard-working residents willing to sit in endless meetings and keep our parks, libraries, schools and village hall humming.
It’s a pain for local candidates to collect the one hundred plus signatures needed to run for office, and we’ve all seen putative candidates standing outside el stations seeking signatures.
I might disagree on how much the high school board should spend on a new pool, but I’ll defend to the death (hopefully that won’t be necessary), the rights of folks with opposing views to appear on a ballot.
Enter Mr. Samuels. Bruce took a different approach. He challenged all the signatures Vic filed but did not say why he challenged them. He just alleged that all the signatures were bad. This “shot gun” approach means that the burden shifted to Guarino to prove that the signatures were valid.
After an exhaustive review, the hearing officer noted with understatement that “objections to every signature are not likely to be in good faith.”
So after hiring a lawyer, attending numerous hearings, Guarino gets to stay on the ballot.
But we, the voters, get to have the final word. If you want to send a message that this kind of conduct is not appreciated in Oak Park, do the following come Election Day: Do not vote for Samuels and vote instead for Guarino.