Maywood Mayor Decries Petition Challenge As Opponents Say She’s Making Things Too Personal

Mayor Perkins speak

Maywood Mayor Edwenna Perkins. | File

Friday, February 3, 2017 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews

After surviving an objection to her nominating papers — which entailed an undisclosed amount of legal fees and several days spent knocking on doors and pounding the pavement — Maywood Mayor Edwenna Perkins is blasting a recent challenge that was brought against her candidacy.

She says it reflects a wider objection process that is undemocratic — a claim that some opponents of the mayor say is unfair and hypocritical.

“The reason why people who need to be out here running for office will not get out here is because of the hell they have to go through to do it,” Perkins said during an interview last month. “That’s why more people don’t get involved. Every citizen has a right to run. You should not be denied that right.”

Perkins had just survived an objection brought against her nominating papers by Maywood resident Reginald Lamont Featherston, Sr., who challenged the validity of many of Perkins’s petition signatures.

After the objection was heard last month, the local electoral board ordered that Perkins’ papers be subject to a binder check, a process by which a candidate’s petition signatures are scrutinized to make sure that the signatures are valid (i.e., the signatures match those of the people who signed, the signers are residents of Maywood, etc.).

A Cook County election official ruled that Perkins had exceeded the minimum number of 124 valid signatures required to be on the ballot, but Featherston essentially appealed the official’s decision.

“When the [binder check] was done, it showed that the mayor was six signatures ahead, above the minimum she needed,” said Doug Ibendahl, Perkins’s attorney. “So, the rules say that within 24 hours, you can file what’s called a Rule 8 motion and either side can point out, line-by-line, the rulings they disagree with. The objector checked around 20 signatures he disagreed with.”

Ibendahl said that, even though the mayor came out ahead during the binder check, he didn’t want her taking any chances. So, on his advice, she bundled up, (clip board in hand and accompanied by a notary public), and sought out 30 affidavits, basically signatures she’d already gotten, just in case any of her surplus signatures were successfully invalidated during the next hearing.

It turned out, however, that the additional affidavits weren’t needed at the next hearing, since Featherston’s attorney didn’t show up with  affidavits of his own proving that any of the mayor’s challenged signatures were invalid.

“In the end, she didn’t need the 30 affidavits, but she didn’t waste her time, because she went out and was able to see her voters again and reconnect with them,” Ibendahl said.

Ibendahl explained that the Rule 8 motion is pretty standard procedure and is utilized all over the state. It’s basically an internal appeals process at the electoral board level that objectors and candidates can use just in case the county electoral official is wrong about the binder check.

But in the mayor’s case, Ibendahl and Perkins said, the motion seemed like a desperate, and sloppy, attempt to simply remove her from the ballot. They pointed out that among the few dozen signatures that were challenged as part of the Rule 8 motion was that of Featherston himself.

Mayor Perkins argued that Featherston’s employment and legal representation point to the possibility that he was just a front person for some of her opponents in the race.

“The young man is trying to keep his job,” said Perkins, referencing Featherston, who she believes only lent his name to an objection that was really the work of the Maywood United Party. “I saw the young man and I talked to him, hugged him and wished him well. He’s a young, black man and I advocate for young, black men.”

Featherston is a Proviso Township employee. His supervisor is Readith Ester, who is running for village clerk with the Maywood United Party.

The party’s ticket also includes Trustee Henderson Yarbrough as its mayoral candidate. Former trustee Audrey Jaycox, local businessman Antonio Sanchez and Maywood Board of Fire and Police Commission Chairman Emanuel Wilder are its three trustee candidates.

Featherston’s attorney, James P. Nally, said that he has represented Maywood United Party candidates in the past, but that he also represents “dozens of candidates throughout Cook County.”

In an interview last week, Ester confirmed that Featherston works under her, but added that she didn’t know anything about his objection and didn’t ask him to make the challenge.

“I had no knowledge who was going to challenge the opposition,” she said. “I had no input in it. As a matter of fact, I didn’t find out any of that until after the fact. I didn’t ask him to do anything. I don’t do that. I never have. Not one of my employees can come and say, ‘She asked me [to do anything political].’”

“The mayor is making assumptions on her part,” said Jaycox. “If she doesn’t know him, then how could she make that claim? What any individual decides to do, that’s on them. You can say all kinds of stuff, but you have to be able to validate and substantiate those claims.”

Ester said that Perkins’s criticisms of the objection process are undercut by her actions, adding that the mayor was behind an objection to Yarbrough’s candidacy filed by Maywood resident Linda Reedy, which was the first objection of the campaign season.

“The mayor is playing the same games and that undermines her credibility,” Ester said. “The objections started out from her. We hadn’t even done anything at that point.”

Perkins, however, said that she only supported Reedy’s objection in principal, adding that she didn’t lend any financial or material support to the objection. Moreover, Reedy, the mayor said, was present at the public hearings regarding the objection — unlike Featherston.

Perkins added that Reedy’s objection wasn’t frivolous and that Reedy isn’t an employee of hers.

“If people have legitimate reasons to challenge, they have a right to do so,” said Perkins. “Linda is a concerned citizen. Featherston never even came to a single hearing.”

Ibendahl said that objectors rarely appear at electoral board hearings and that their appearance isn’t required by law.

“In all of my 16 years of doing objections, I don’t think I’ve ever showed up to a hearing and actually met the objector,” he said. “That’s perfectly legal under our law. People don’t have to be there. Neither do the candidates.”

In December, Reedy filed an objection against Yarbrough on the grounds that his petition signatures were invalid because the date at the top of the petition sheets listed the Feb. 28, 2017 primary election, instead of the April 4, 2017 municipal election.

“The elections for the mayor and trustees have always been in April,” Reedy said in a phone interview at the time. “I think that’s a misrepresentation.”

In an interview Friday, Reedy said that she eventually dropped the objection after talking with a Cook County election official, who told her that the addition of the date was not outside of the state’s electoral laws. She also denied that Perkins, who she intends to vote for in April, had anything to do with her objection.

“I’ve never had a conversation with Readith about my objection, so I don’t see where she is getting that from. Mayor Perkins had absolutely nothing to do with my objection,” said Reedy, who admitted that she’s a vocal opponent of the Maywood United Party.

“I think Mayor Perkins has a vision for Maywood,” Reedy said. “I think the Maywood United Party also has a vision for Maywood, but it is not the one we need.”

In a phone interview earlier this month, Nally said that Featherston’s objections, which he lodged against at least a dozen other candidates, were “filed in compliance with Illinois law” and that “they were well-founded.”

For instance, Featherstone’s objections to the nominating papers of mayoral candidates Kathy Travis, Quincy Johnson and Luther Spence were all upheld by the local electoral board that Perkins sat on, with the mayor voting favorably for several of Featherston’s objections.

Nally also pointed out that many of Perkins’s signatures that were challenged by Featherston were struck during the binder check, indicating that the challenges weren’t as frivolous as Perkins is claiming.

“She remained on the ballot, but only by six signatures,” Nally said. “Over 70 of them were stricken as invalid.”

Ibendahl and Perkins said that, regardless of the particulars of the Featherston case, the objection process needs to be reformed.

“The way it is now, it’s sort of like open season,” Ibendahl said, before cautioning that he was referencing the objection process in the Chicago area, in general, and not any particular case.

He said he has no knowledge of Featherston, or whether or not any other candidate or political entity was behind his objection. Featherston couldn’t be reached for comment before this story went to press.

“Every objector states the same language, that they’re filing the objection because they have an interest in the honest operation of our election,” Ibendahl said. “That’s so bogus. That’s not why 95 percent of the objections are filed. Most are filed to remove competition short of the ballot box, basically to short-circuit the electoral process.

“People can throw everything at the wall and make all kinds of allegations and there’s no sanction for doing so other than losing the objection,” he said. “I won’t cast any aspersions on Featherston, because I don’t know the facts, but a lot of objections are filed by people who are getting reimbursed by [political entities or candidates] or are doing it as a favor in hopes of getting something in return in the future.”

Ibendahl noted that the state legislature should consider enacting laws that make it tougher for people to file frivolous challenges for the purpose of short-circuiting the electoral system. Perkins agreed.

For instance, the attorney said, prospective objectors could be required to provide some kind of proof, such as a consistent voting record, demonstrating that they’re filing objections based on a genuine interest in the operation of the local electoral process.

He said that numerous sanctions, such as fines, could accompany losing objections in order to provide disincentives for people who would lodge, or lend their names to, challenges designed to kick candidates off of the ballot, or force opposing candidates to spend time and money on unnecessary legal challenges.

But the odds that state lawmakers would even consider introducing such legislation are long — a point that even Ibendahl conceded.

“[Those laws] won’t see the light of day as long as there are people out there running for office,” said Jaycox. “It’s not like this issue is just a local thing. They’d have to galvanize a whole lot of people, from the local to the federal level, to make some changes. As long as the rules are on the books, people will use them.”

Even former president Barack Obama has benefited from the objection process, as Chicago political commentator Jay Stone pointed out.

“[Obama’s] political career started successfully thanks to the CBOE [Chicago Board of Elections] denying all of his opponents the opportunity to run against him,” Stone stated. “The CBOE declared 4 of the 5 candidates or 80% of the candidates ineligible to compete against Barack Obama for state senator in his first election.”

Jaycox and Ester said that the mayor is turning a routine electoral procedure into something personal.

“How are you going to be opposed to someone else exercising the same right that you [support]?” said Ester. “She always wants to flip the script to sound like she’s the victim.”

“As a public figure, you have to take what’s thrown at you,” said Jaycox. “Politics is tough. You can’t take it personally and maybe that’s what’s happening here. Other people who are challenged take their challenge and go about their business. They fight it and go on.”

Perkins responded by doubling down on her original stance.

“Every citizen has a right to run,” she said. “It shouldn’t be about kicking people off the ballot. The only people who make money are the attorneys and the public needs to know what’s going on.” VFP

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