Anthony Clark was blocked Monday from the April ballot for Oak Park village trustee. The action came as the three-person local election board met to consider a challenge made to Clark’s candidacy brought by an Oak Park resident best known for filing just such challenges.

The split vote was 2-1 with Mayor Anan Abu-Taleb and Trustee Jim Taglia voting to remove Clark from the ballot. Village Clerk Vicki Scaman, also a candidate for village president in April, voted to allow Clark to remain on the ballot.

This may or may not be the final word on the issue as Clark could choose to appeal the decision to the Cook County courts and even beyond. Two years ago, two incumbent Black trustees were tied up in court challenges almost through Election Day, based on challenges brought by the same Kevin Peppard.

Some argue that Peppard must be displaying racism based on this history of challenges. And he may be. But he can also point to any number of white candidates he has also challenged with mixed results over the years. He’d claim to be protecting democracy by policing the tics and peculiarities of election laws. 

Our preference is most always to allow voters to protect democracy at the ballot box.

The same three-person panel had previously disallowed Peppard’s challenge to another Black man running for the village board. Chibuike Enyia remains on the ballot after the panel unanimously rejected Peppard’s claim that Enyia was not eligible to run, based on Peppard’s extraordinarily thin claim that he had been convicted of a felony some years back in Iowa. This claim was based on a scanty Google search that coughed up just hints of a legal issue a long while back.

Peppard wished Enyia well after the panel ruled in his favor. What Peppard ought to have offered was an abject apology for slandering the young man’s reputation. And we’d suggest that Enyia consult a defamation attorney.

When it comes to Anthony Clark, things are always more complicated, often sort of messy. And so it was in this instance. Peppard’s charge against Clark was that he is not a resident of Oak Park, that he owns a residence in west suburban Lombard on which he has claimed a homeowner’s tax exemption making it his principal residence. Much of the evidence Peppard presented, and which the board considered, came from the legal documents Clark assembled in his bankruptcy declaration in 2020. 

For his part Clark tells an intensely personal story of having bought the Lombard residence several years ago for a woman who claimed Clark had fathered a child with her. That was later proved to be untrue, he said. Clark says he never lived there but has long lived with his aging parents on Lombard Avenue in Oak Park. He says he is registered to vote in Oak Park, that his driver’s license reflects that Oak Park address.

In a statement Monday to the Journal, Clark argues that life is complicated, that hard and imperfect family choices are made and that those choices are all the harder if your financial means are stressed and if you are Black or Brown. As a high school teacher and activist, Clark says he is fully committed to Oak Park, his hometown. We take his points.

And we agree with Scaman that this is a tough call. Fundamentally, the electoral board was charged to decide only the issue of Clark’s residency. Clark’s various decisions and choices opened a door for Abu-Taleb and Taglia to offer their views of Clark’s character. That wasn’t their job. Deciding on a candidate’s character is the task of voters.

Straight up on residency, we side with Anthony Clark. And we side with the right of voters to decide.

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