Another round of objections adds to mayoral election controversy

(Source: Jeff Smith) Jeff Smith.

(Source: Jeff Smith) Jeff Smith.

Julia Jacobs and Marissa Page

Mayoral candidate Jeff Smith (WCAS ‘77) filed objections to all four of his competitors last week, opposing the city’s recent decision to hold a primary at the end of February and raising questions about an already-murky electoral process.

Smith, who was the last of five mayoral candidates to enter the race, said he was objecting based on faults in other candidates’ nominating papers. The city announced Dec. 23 that it will hold a mayoral primary ahead of the April election after Evanston resident William Arndt, a supporter of Ald. Brian Miller (9th), objected to two sets of nominating papers because they failed to mention the Feb. 28 primary, which Evanston residents voted to create in 1992 but the city has not held consistently.

Smith said a truncated campaign period will not give objectors enough time to take their issue to court, should the electoral board not decide in their favor.

“If you compress it to having a primary after a December filing period, you’re really cutting it short,” Smith said. “You’re making it hard on candidates, you’re making it hard on the clerks and the courts, you’re making it hard on the voters.”

Businessman Steve Hagerty, one of the mayoral candidates Smith and Arndt challenged, said both objections aimed to “disenfranchise” Evanston voters by limiting their choice for mayor. The other three mayoral candidates whom Smith is challenging did not respond to requests for comment.

“We are following the same process that we followed in the past and there haven’t been all of these objections and controversy,” Hagerty said. “And the reality is both the objections of William Arndt and Ald. Miller and now Jeff Smith seem awfully self-serving.”

Smith takes issue with the legitimacy of the 1992 referendum itself, which was resurrected last month during hearings about the objections Arndt had filed. Based on the citywide referendum, a primary should be held if more than two candidates enter the race, after which the top two candidates will run in a general election in April. If one candidate wins more than 50 percent of the primary vote, they win the entire mayoral election, the referendum said.

Arndt’s lawyers were unsuccessful in challenging the nominating papers of Hagerty and former Evanston Township supervisor Gary Gaspard for not specifying the February primary date, withdrawing an objection to Ald. Mark Tendam (6th) earlier in the process. In a statement released last month, Miller said he became involved in filing the challenges so the city would “abide by the will of the voters.”

In their proceedings last month, the electoral board decided not to consider evidence relating to the 1992 referendum because Arndt’s and his lawyers had not submitted the documents in a timely manner.

Smith, however, objects to his competitors’ papers on different grounds, arguing that some of his competitors filed for a nonpartisan election that is not formally required in Evanston. Smith, a lawyer with experience in election law, filed as an independent candidate.

Smith also objected to candidates who filed outside of what he believes to be the only legal filing period of Dec. 12 to Dec. 19. His opponents’ nominating papers were accepted in November, and the city decided to keep separate filing periods in both months after confusion about which were the proper dates.

His opponents turned in their documents during a November filing period set by City Clerk Rodney Greene after confusion about when the city could accept them.

Greene said the city will likely hold a hearing on the objections this week. He said, as with the previous objections, he doesn’t expect Smith’s to result in the candidates losing ballot access. Greene added that this mayoral race is one of the most “confused” elections he has seen in Evanston.

“This is not typical,” Greene said. “This is the first time I’ve seen an election like this.”

Smith said his objections are not just about technicalities but rather whether voters were presented with accurate information when they signed mayoral petitions.

“I don’t blame the voters for being confused, because they were presented with cumulatively a lot of confusing information,” Smith said. “Candidates shouldn’t be rewarded for creating chaos.”

Hagerty said the electoral process had been a “complete mess” thus far, but the confusion was not attributable to himself or his opponents. He said he felt confident the electoral board would not bar any of them from appearing on the February ballot.

“Let’s give people choice and let’s elect people that want to solve problems,” Hagerty said. “And let’s agree that whoever is elected mayor of this city, the first thing they agree to do is work with the City Council and clean up this mess so it doesn’t happen again.”

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Twitter: @juliarebeccaj

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Twitter: @marissahpage