Friday, February 6, 2009

Stacked election review panel rules predictably Friday night

A predictable ruling in an unpredictable election

As everyone expected, the Orland Park Election Board threw out Gerald Maher’s challenge of Orland Park Mayor Dan McLaughlin’s candidacy.

At issue was not the law, but the lawyers and the board's "objectivity."

The Orland Park election committee consisted of two incumbent Orland Park trustees, for the most part very fair. They are Trustee Ed Schussler and Trustee Bernard Murphy. Murphy and Schussler ran for re-election together in the 2007 village elections and they are considered allies – based on their vote – with McLaughlin and his slate of candidates who are now running for re-election in the April 7 election, incumbent trustees Kathy Fenton, Brad O’Halloran and Jim Dodge, and clerk David Maher.

Maher challenged McLaughlin’s petitions saying they violated the law. McLaughlin’s committee is described on the petitions as a “new” party but the Orland Park First Party is not new at all. It is an existing, established party. You cannot name your independent party after an existing established party according to a fair reading of the state election law.

But the law was never the issue. The deck was always stacked against Maher, who has McLaughlin on the run, however.

The original village election board consisted of McLaughlin and Clerk Maher (no relation to Gerald Maher). They stepped aside and their colleagues on the board, Schussler and Murphy were named to take their place.

A third “judge” who would join the panel to review the challenge was named by Cook County Chief Justice Tim Evans, the former Chicago alderman who lost his bid to become mayor to Eugene Sawyer in 1987 following the death of Harold Washington. Evans is a very pleasant person, but very political too.

Evans named as that 3rd panel member, Michael Davies, who for the past two years has been a trustee in Chicago Ridge. For the 18 years prior to that time, he was a trustee on the Worth Township Board, a board that Burt Odelson’s powerful law firm represented for many years. Davies and Odelson are good friends.

Some say the connection runs deeper. But there is nothing nefarious there about Burt. I like Burt. Not everyone does. He's a frequent guest on my radio show and he is both knowledgable and informed. He doesn't pull punches and he is upfront and honest. And usually right.

But as controversial as Odelson might be, he is also one of the state’s best if not the nation’s best election law attorneys. Which means he knows the law better than anyone. And he knows when and how to interpret the law better than anyone. In fact, I would go as far to say that had Gerald Maher hired Odelson as his attorney, he would probably today be the only candidate for mayor on the Village of Orland Park ballot.

I asked Odelson, as McLaughin’s attorney, for his comment but couldn’t reach him late Friday night (hours after the election review board met, ruled and adjourned).

The real problem in all this, I think, is Judge Evans. Instead of appointing a truly objective arbiter to sit on the already stacked election board deck, Evans appointed someone that Maher’s people said "yelled a greeting" aloud at the beginning of the meeting to welcome Odelson. And, they said, he asked only two questions ... at the end of the session.

Maher’s people praised Schussler, a straight shooter when it comes to village politics. But, would he vote to remove his fellow trustees and mayor from the ballot? Murphy also is considered very ethical, too. But no matter how much ethics you have, voting to remove your best friends on the village board from their re-election would be almost impossible. (Murphy, Fenton, Dodge, Schussler and O'Halloran, and McLaughlin and Clerk Maher have all served together for years.)

Why do we, the taxpayers, tolerate, such a failed election review process where the pals (and sometimes enemies) of village incumbents get to decide who stays and who goes?

The whole process is shameful. But that’s not a knock on Odelson.

The fact that the challenge got this far, though, is a harbinger of the challenges McLaughlin and his “First Party” face. The real issue is whether the voters have had enough of unaccountable government, skyrocketing property taxes, the gutting of the popular property tax rebate plan, the millions spent on a development that hasn’t yet been developed. The plate is full.

Personally, I always favor candidates facing-off and oppose seeing anyone, even those deserving of criticism, to be knocked off ballots. I think the voters' interests are always better served when there is an election contest. That's the onlyw ay officials are forced to be accountable.

But this challenge wasn’t judged objectively. Some might argue, it wasn't fair at all.

And that’s something the people of Orland Park have become accustomed to receiving.

-- Ray Hanania

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