Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Special hearing called to review challenge to Orland Mayor's candidacy

It’s unprecedented. A challenge was filed against the election candidacy documents of Orland Park Mayor Dan McLaughlin and his running mates on the “Orland Park First Party" slate, Trustees Kathy Fenton, Brad O’Halloran, Jim Dodge and Village Clerk David Maher.

The challenge was filed by McLaughlin’s mayoral rival, Gerald P. Maher, and his running mates on the Concerned Citizens of Orland Park, trustee candidates Marian Klemme, Kenneth Houston, Kenneth Wzorek and clerk candidate Patrice Pykett.

Normally, challenges are filed by incumbents against their non-incumbent challengers, but McLaughlin’s party never filed any challenges.

This is all strange. You see, the people in power are usually the ones who decide if a challenger’s challenge will stand. So petition challenges against non-incumbents are frequent.

The review body that would normally consider the candidacy challenges in Orland Park would be the incumbents, and in this case, Mayor McLaughlin and Clerk Maher. But since the challenge is against them, they were forced to step aside. Two of his colleagues on the village board were appointed to take their places, Trustees Bernard Murphy and Ed Schussler.

At 4:59 pm on Wednesday, Clerk Maher’s office posted a notice of a special meeting to review the challenges to take place at 5:30 PM on Friday night, just slightly more than 48 hours notice, just meeting the requirements of the Illinois Open Meetings Act.

The challenge argues that the name being used by McLaughlin slate, the “Orland Park First Party” is not a "new" party, as designated in the election filings. Instead, and we all know this to be true, the name is an “existing” party that McLaughlin and his same trustees used in 2001 and in 2005, when they ran unopposed.

The law says you can't use the name of an existing "established" party and then file it as a "new" party. It's an important technicality, the kind of technicality that usually will get challengers thrown off of ballots, usually not incumbents. Technicalities like these cause election losses.

Who decides these issues?

I'm going to say that Murphy and Schussler are very friendly and sympathetic to McLaughlin, their colleague and friend. In fact, I can't recall an instance where either trustee has ever seriously challenged any of McLaughlin's decisions. But Murphy and Schussler are under pressure to do the right thing and to follow the letter of the law. Chief Judge of the Circuit Court Tim Evans appointed a “third” person to join the review panel -- the name of that person was not immediately made public.

The law is very clear that candidacy petitions must be precise in language and form. The whole system of incumbent officials in a village reviewing their own challenges is really ludicrous because there is no real impartiality. It’s a serious flaw in the county's election system that should be changed, but won't. Usually, these challenges end up in the courts.

When the challenge was filed in the village hall offices of Clerk Maher on Monday, sources said McLaughlin came rushing down from his own office to Clerk Maher’s office. There, challenger Gerald Maher’s filer sat for 40 minutes until an official in Clerk Maher’s office finally provided a one-sentence typed receipt acknowledging the challenge was officially filed. Forty minutes to type one sentence. That's a record!

Not the most efficient re-election strategy

I’m going to say that this election is not going to be the synch for McLaughlin many had expected. The terrible economy, the dramatic increases in property taxes and village fees, the cutbacks in programming and new charges added to programs that previously were free have caused much alarm among village taxpayers.

When a proposal was made last week to hike the village vehicle sticker fee, even nominally, fear that it would be the hike that broke the camel’s back forced the village to decide to put it on hold – probably until after the election. (It's a strange thing. Taxpayers complain about but will accept property tax hikes, which are imposed a year after they are hiked and paid as a part of a monthly mortgage payment. But vehicle fees, for some reason, really tick voters off even though the increase are only a few dollars.)

In the shadows of all this are rumors that not all is copacetic in Camelot or in the Orland Park First Party where issues of egos seem to be clashing. Was McLaughlin really considering not running for re-election or, was it that one of his close allies wearing the robes of a 19th Ward Brutes, might have been planning a coup?

Who knows?

But I will be SHOCKED if the challenge is upheld. That, my friends, would truly be unprecendented.

-- Ray Hanania

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