Public comments read during the Municipal Officers Electoral Board meeting, held Jan. 6, were overwhelmingly in support of Oak Park village board trustee candidates Anthony Clark and Chibuike Enyia.
“We stand with Anthony Clark and Chibuike Enyia,” Kate O’Keefe and Adam Wojtowicz stated in a joint comment. “It makes us sad that a member of our community would go to such lengths to keep these two candidates off the ballot.”
Clark and Enyia have had their nomination petitions challenged by Oak Park resident Kevin Peppard, who believes the two men are ineligible to hold public office. Peppard’s objection against Clark alleges that he does not meet the residency requirement to serve as trustee. The objection against Enyia alleges that he has a drug-related felony conviction in Iowa. Illinois law dictates that convicted felons cannot hold public office.
As Clark and Enyia are both Black, many public commenters denounced Peppard’s objections as racist and baseless attacks. Others accused Peppard of weaponizing election law to discredit and disqualify Black candidates.
The board convened that day to hear Peppard’s objections against the two candidates, both of whom are being represented by attorney Ed Mullen. The Municipal Officers Electoral Board consists of Mayor Anan Abu-Taleb, senior Trustee Jim Taglia and Village Clerk Vicki Scaman, who were warned against letting public comment influence decision-making.
“Public comment is not evidence in the cases before the board and it’s not legally permissible for the board to consider it in making decisions in the cases,” said Village Attorney Paul Stephanides.
The purpose of the Jan. 6 hearing was to allow the parties involved to present any evidence or arguments to date, according to Stephanides. The hearing will reconvene at 2 p.m., Jan 12.
Neither Peppard nor Mullen presented any evidence or arguments in Clark’s case. Regarding the objection against Enyia, Peppard stated that he was unable to get court rulings to confirm that Enyia was convicted of a felony. Iowa court system does not allow a citizen to unseal a record after a certain number of months, according to Peppard, who asked the board to direct police to acquire the documents.
“The case hinges on whether there is and was a felony record and whether there was a pardon or not and whether the Oak Park police, or some other law enforcement agency can have access to determine what the facts are,” said Peppard.
Mullen stated that the election board is a limited administrative body under Illinois election code that has the limited purpose of passing upon objections to nominating petitions.
“It does not have any legal authority and Mr. Peppard has not presented any legal authority to order the Oak Park police to do anything,” Mullen said.
He continued, saying Peppard’s filings against the petition indicate that Peppard does not have the evidence to prove the asserted claim.
“Beyond that, the document that he has attached to his motion indicates that the resolution of Mr. Enyia’s case was a deferred judgement.”
Deferred judgements are plea agreements that allow defendants an opportunity to complete a period of probation prior to any entry of conviction. If the defendant completes probation, the court can dismiss the charges.
“What that means is that a conviction was never entered pending his completion of probation and paying a fine,” said Mullen.
The presented evidence against Enyia, according to Mullen, shows that Peppard cannot prove the claim on the basis of his objection and that a conviction was not entered.
“We believe that both legally and factually the objection is flawed and should be dismissed or overruled on the merits of this board,” said Mullen.