On Thursday, December 5, Edgar Aguirre, 34, was in the bathroom of his home in Melrose Park when he heard banging at the front door. His mother opened it and saw two men—one bespectacled Hispanic, one Caucasian—standing on her porch. They asked to see Aguirre and his father, Humberto. When Humberto appeared, one of the men said that they were from the state.
For Aguirre, the moment seemed cinematic. Just minutes ago, he’d read a Facebook posting that his friend, Tony Favela, had written, warning his supporters about a man ironically named Hugo Chavez who’d been “knocking on doors posing as a state inspector.”
Favela, 30, is a third-year law student at John Marshal Law School in Chicago and a Democratic candidate for state representative in the 77th District, a seat currently held by fellow Democrat Kathleen Willis.
Overhearing the men’s script, Edgar rushed to the door.
“You must be Edgar,” one of the men said before shoving Favela’s picture at him. The men claimed that Favela was circulating fraudulent petitions and wanted to know whether Edgar had signed any. Edgar, wizened by his friend’s Facebook message, asked the men for identification.
“Can you answer the question?” one of the men asked.
“I asked them to show me some ID twice. They asked me twice for my ID and if I had signed a petition. Then they walked away,” said Edgar during an interview conducted a day after the incident. As if to consummate their brazenness, the men’s car was parked in the Aguirre family’s driveway.
Hours earlier, supporters of Favela had begun calling and Facebooking him by the dozens, complaining about getting suspicious phone calls from a man named “Joe.” Many others attested to being visited by two men, sometimes three, who would bang at their doors and windows, shine flashlights in their faces, claim they were state election investigators and hold up a blown-up photo of Favela while making accusations of fraud.
Alejandro Gonzalez, 33, said that he was at work when the men showed up at his Melrose Park home, where he lives with his parents. All three are Favela supporters.
“My dad called me about Tony’s petition. He said there were these two guys who were saying that they were from the state. They were all aggressive about it,” said Gonzalez.
“They were telling my mom things she couldn’t comprehend. She didn’t understand what was going on. They made her sign something, they notarized it and they said that’s all they needed. My dad didn’t know who they were.”
What Gonzalez’s mother signed was an affidavit that effectively withdraws her signature from Favela’s petition sheet. If enough Favela supporters sign those affidavits, they could pose a serious problem for his campaign.
“It’s an affidavit saying that she doesn’t recall signing my petition and that she doesn’t know who I am. By signing, it negates the signature and if enough are signed, it negates my candidacy,” Favela said.
Emboldened by the volume of complaints that he was getting, Favela began driving around looking for Hugo Chavez and Joe—who he assumed to be Chavez’s Caucasian accomplice. He devised a crude method of driving around the precincts where the complaints were concentrated, waiting for someone to call saying that the men were either at the front door or just leaving.
His method didn’t take long to produce results. Favela spotted the men at a Melrose Park gas station, filling a black convertible BMW with vanity plates that preempted any confusion about its ownership—HUGO CHV.
Favela activated his cell phone camera and, along with a supporter, approached the man at the pump. The video is somewhat jerky (for instance, you can’t quite make out the official license plate numbers), but it clearly shows a man who looks strikingly similar to the one smiling in photos posted on Favela’s Facebook timeline accompanied by the candidate’s warning:
“This man is named Hugo. He is knocking on doors posing as a state inspector. He IS NOT a state inspector, he works for my opponent. This man and another person are intimidating people that signed my petitions. You don’t have to talk to them or answer their questions. Don’t let them intimidate you. I’ve already asked them to stop lying and scaring residents. If you have any problems please contact me.”
Favela asked Hugo why he was going around posing as a state elections inspector and intimidating his supporters. He tried reasoning with him, explaining why it was wrong. Hugo’s response is barely audible, but his actions are clear. He points the fuel nozzle at Favela as if it were a gun and grins. I asked Favela what Hugo said.
“He told me to go to hell,” said Favela.
The camera phone also catches another man, whom Favela believes to be Joe, sitting on the passenger seat of the BMW. The man, a Caucasian, is hiding his face with what appears to be a stack of petitions—Favela’s petitions—that the men are using to locate Favela’s supporters and intimidate them into retracting their support and/or signing affidavits like the one they presented to Alejandro Gonzalez’s mother.
“Yeah that’s him,” said Edgar Aguirre, when Favela showed him the cell phone video. He pointed at Hugo’s grin and identified him as the bespectacled Hispanic. Then he saw “Joe” sheepishly peaking from behind an apparent curtain of petition signatures. “That’s the white guy,” he said.
Aguirre may have identified the puppets, but it would be an altogether different task finding the person pulling the strings. VFP
The second installment of this two-part series will be published Thursday.