In one of the ironies of Campaign ’09, two suburban elections that got mired in the judicial system centered around an identical issue – yet wound up with opposite results.
Calumet City and Cicero both have incumbent mayors who wanted to run unopposed in the primary elections taking place Tuesday. In both cases, the leading opponent was a local police officer who got it into her/his head that they could challenge the incumbent.
IN BOTH CASES, local electoral boards bounced the law enforcement/political wannabes from the primary ballot by claiming that the law prevented police officers from becoming politicians.
In the case of Calumet City, they interpreted state law to say that only firefighters could have political aspirations, while Cicero officials said they had a local law preventing their cops from running for elective office.
Both suburbs wound up spending the bulk of the past couple of months in court, as the politically motivated police officers used the judicial system to try to force local elections officials to print their names on the ballots.
But that is where the similarity ends.
IN CICERO, ROBERTO Garcia got a Cook County judge last week to issue an order saying that the law does NOT prevent police officers from running for office – only from trying to serve as police officers and politicians simultaneously.
But in Calumet City, Pam Cap was not so lucky. Although her name appeared on ballots used at early voting centers across Cook County, an Illinois appellate court ruling last week knocked her off the ballot – and all those people who voted for Cap in early voting have the knowledge that their ballots are now considered spoiled for “mayor.”
Votes cast for Cap don’t count for anything on Tuesday.
Now it struck me as odd (as it did several law enforcement observers) that someone would claim a police officer can’t have political aspirations. After all, one of the long-time veterans of the City Council – Edward Burke – was once a police officer.
AND I CAN remember from my stint covering the Illinois Legislature the era of state Sen. Walter Dudycz, R-Chicago, who was a Chicago cop before going into politics and remained with the Chicago police department (on a permanent leave of absence) even after getting elected.
Those two are just part of a long tradition of police officers who get elected to one office or another.
But the local officials gave their interpretation of the law to apply to their own situations. So what is the difference between west suburban Cicero and south suburban Calumet City that nearly identical (at least from a legal standpoint) cases wound up with opposite results?
In the case of Cicero, a Cook County judge was forced to consider the merits of the legal argument that police should not be politicians. Attorneys for both suburban towns claim that police should have to give up their police positions before running for office – which would leave them with no income while campaigning.
BUT IN CALUMET City’s case, attorneys managed to prevent the issue from ever being considered by a court.
The same Cook County Circuit Court that produced a judge who ruled in favor of Garcia last week wound up having to focus its attention in the Cap case on whether her campaign properly notified local electoral board officials as to her intention to sue the city.
While the Chicago-based law firm of Ancel Glink was prepared to fight the merits of Cap’s case that a cop can be a pol, attorneys hired by Calumet City were able to persuade a Cook County judge that she could not hear the appeal because officials were improperly notified.
And an Illinois appellate panel in Chicago last week, in upholding the Cook County judge’s ruling, specifically said that without strict adherence to procedures in electoral law, no other issues were relevant.
SO IN ONE sense, the attorneys hired by Calumet City (including long-time election law expert Burton S. Odelson) were sharp. They outfoxed the opposition. They did their job. They “won” the case for their client – the government of the City of Calumet City.
The political observer in me almost admires them for skillful use of the law to advance politically partisan motives, which is typical of electoral boards in all towns. Every election cycle produces stories of some government entity where a serious challenger never even got to run for office.
And some people defend such measures these days by reminding us that Barack Obama won his first elective office in the Illinois Senate by getting his opponent, incumbent state Sen. Alice Palmer, D-Chicago, booted from the ballot (for insufficient valid signatures on her nominating petitions). This is an issue where the victors' viewpoint ultimately prevails.
As often came out in the court hearings involved in these two cases, electoral boards historically were supposed to be entities with great authority to make decisions. In fact, the law once said that electoral board rulings about who was, and who was not, on the ballot could not be appealed in any court.
SO PERHAPS IT is not some great legal surprise that Cap will not be on Tuesday’s Democratic primary ballot in Calumet City. Others would say that the only surprise would have been had Garcia failed in his goal to be an alternative to Cicero voters determined to vote against Town President Larry Dominick.
But it strikes me as ironic that Garcia will be able to garner votes for his political aspirations on Tuesday, while Cap has to focus her attention on a write-in campaign (which makes her a political long-shot) in the April 7 general election.
EDITOR’S NOTES: I get a kick out of reading Cicero President Larry Dominick’s “response” (http://www.suntimes.com/news/elections/1441172,CST-NWS-cicero20.article) to learning that he will have a police officer opponent in Tuesday’s elections.
Calumet City voters will have a “routine” primary election Tuesday as Mayor Michelle Markiewicz Qualkinbush (http://www.nwi.com/articles/2009/02/18/news/illinois/docf01bd73ec936ed778625756100037c12.txt) runs unopposed.