Several candidates for Chicago mayor will have to defend the validity of their petitions to appear on the ballot as the race for City Hall’s top job intensifies.
In all, 11 candidates filed to run for mayor last month and five had their petitions challenged on Monday, the deadline for objections to be submitted to the Chicago Board of Elections.
Ald. Roderick Sawyer and activist Ja’Mal Green both had their nominating paperwork challenged by former state Sen. Rickey Hendon, an ally of fellow candidate Willie Wilson. Wilson, in turn, is also facing a signature challenge that, if successful, could knock him off the Feb. 28 ballot.
But incumbent Mayor Lori Lightfoot, though facing a large field seeking to unseat her, is not among those who will be faced with defending petitions. She boasted of having upwards of 40,000 signatures, more than three times the required number.
Sawyer released a statement in response, saying in part: “Willie Wilson talks about being denied access to voting in his life, but now that he’s a wealthy man he’s doing the exact same thing – denying people their choice of candidate by means of his wealth . That’s the height of hypocrisy.” Sawyer called it a “real insult” to the thousands who signed his petitions and to his volunteers.
Just minutes before the 5 pm petition challenge deadline Monday, Green strolled into the Chicago Board of Elections and hit back at the Wilson campaign, alleging that almost 50,000 of the businessman’s 61,000-plus signatures were “complete fraud.” Green most claimed pages of the petitions only had one or two “different handwritings” and the pages were also allegedly not numbered correctly, missing or duplicating pages at certain points.
Then Green revealed he is accusing Wilson of violating the residency requirements to run for Chicago mayor, claiming Wilson has a home in south suburban Hazel Crest that he uses as his main residence. Green said he had documents proving this but did not immediately share them with reporters present. Green said the downtown address Wilson listed in his nominating petitions is merely used as a campaign headquarters.
In a phone call Wednesday evening, Wilson denied Green’s allegations — as well as his own involvement in the challenge of Green’s signatures, saying: “If I did have something to do with it, I would admit to it.”
Wilson alluded to Green and Hendon having had a confrontation four years ago over a similar petition dispute. But Wilson said Monday he had “nothing to do with that and nor would I get involved in that. … That’s something that they got to work out.”
However, Hendon is a paid consultant to Wilson, and he is listed in Board of Elections records as the objector against the petitions of both Green and Sawyer.
Wilson added that he “absolutely” stands by the integrity of his 61,000-plus signatures and brushed off the accusation that he doesn’t live in his downtown Chicago address as his main residence.
People are “entitled to own more than one home,” Wilson said. “I have two homes. I live in downtown Chicago.”
Green shrugged off the challenge to his own signatures as the byproduct of a “petty dispute.”
As for his own challenge to Wilson, Green said: “This is not a personal dispute; it’s more of the fact to show the city of Chicago that we have a candidate that is willing to commit fraud. So what would he do as mayor of the city of Chicago? We won’t know because it won’t happen. We’re gonna get him off the ballot.”
Green and Rickey Hendon have a history dating back to the 2019 election, when Hendon challenged Green’s petitions, which sparked what at times became a heated war of words. Green verbally sparred with Hendon, a flamboyant former state senator who goes by the nickname “Hollywood,” and after one argument, Hendon posted on Facebook that they’d exchanged threats about fighting one another.
“I told him he needs to change his Pamper,” Hendon wrote.
Objections have also been filed against two lesser-known mayoral candidates, Johnny Logalbo and Frederick Collins.
Chicago’s nominating petition process is one of the most prominent holdovers of the old-school political machine. To run for mayor, a candidate must submit 12,500 signatures from voters, which can be disqualified on narrow technical grounds.
In the 2019 mayoral election, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle — who ultimately lost to Lightfoot in a runoff — succeeded in getting former Cook County Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown kicked off the ballot. That year, Green also withdrew while facing a stiff challenge from Wilson.
Election lawyers often encourage candidates to collect roughly three times the minimum number of signatures because challengers can use charges of forgery, fraud and more minor technicalities to invalidate signatures and knock opponents out of the race. It may take several weeks to resolve the objections against mayoral candidates.
Lecturers of aldermanic candidates are also facing challenges to their nominating petitions.
Beleaguered former Ald. Proco “Joe” Moreno, who is aiming to make a political comeback in the 1st Ward after legal woes, is also facing a challenge to his signatures. Moreno filed to run against Daniel La Spata, who beat Moreno four years ago to win the seat. Also running are Sam Royko and Stephen “Andy” Schneider.
Most of the candidates whose petitions have received objections are challengers. But incumbents including Michelle Harris in the 8th Ward and Roberto Maldonado in the 26th also saw their signatures challenged Monday.
Meanwhile, opponents of indicated and outgoing Ald. Edward Burke sought to show a strong front against one of his allies seeking to succeed him in the 14th Ward. State Rep. Aaron Ortiz announced a challenge against the signatures of Raul Reyes, a longtime Burke lieutenant whose sole challenger is Jeylu Gutierrez, a staffer of Cook County Commissioner Alma Anaya.
Asked why he filed the objections, Ortiz said it’s time the residents of the 14th Ward have an alderman who is the “most ethical.” Reyes, Ortiz alleged, did not collect enough valid signatures.
After his team filed the challenge, Ortiz took a parting shot at Burke: “The sitting alderman is too busy avoiding avoiding jail. … I believe the opportunity has increased 100%” for ‘integrity’ to return to the ward currently represented by Chicago’s longest-serving alderman, who is not seeking reelection amid wide-ranging corruption charges.
In 2020, Ortiz ousted Burke to become the 14th Ward Democratic committeeman. This came a year after the 2019 municipal elections saw Burke win reelection despite the recent federal corruption charges hanging over him.