By Bob Skolnik
Riverside resident and political neophyte Mark Lorch is all but certain to be the Republican nominee for U.S. Congress in the 4th District after two more challengers were tossed from the ballot last week.
Republican candidates Ann Melichar and Ruben Sanchez, both from Chicago, were disqualified when the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners ruled that they did not submit sufficient valid signatures on their nominating petitions to get on the primary ballot.
"It's unfortunate for them," Lorch said. "Not that I necessarily wanted to have to run in a heated primary, but it's unfortunate that they were unsuccessful to get on the ballot."
A fourth Republican candidate, Riverside resident Jay Reyes, also had filed to run for Congress but withdrew from the race last month.
Riverside resident Steve Rembis filed objections to the nominating petitions of Melichar and Sanchez.
Rembis has declined to talk to the Landmark about why he filed the objections. When a Landmark reporter went to Rembis' home on Saturday, his wife said her husband didn't want to comment.
The attorney who represented Rembis in his challenge to Sanchez's petitions, John Fogerty, serves as general counsel to the Illinois Republican Party and has represented numerous Republicans luminaires such as Gov. Bruce Rauner and Illinois House Minority Leader Jim Durkin.
Reyes is the Republican State Central Committeeman for the 4th Congressional District. There are a couple of photos of Reyes and Rembis together on Facebook.
Lorch said that he had nothing to do with Rembis' challenge to Melichar or Sanchez, saying he does not know Rembis.
"I still have never talked to or met the man," Lorch said. "I can make assumptions just like you or anybody else could about who may or may not have put him up to it, but I had nothing to do with that."
Melichar, who grew up in Riverside, ran against incumbent Congressman Luis Gutierrez in 2006 and received just 14.2 percent of the vote. She said that she was surprised that her nominating petitions were challenged.
"It was unexpected," Melichar said. "I really did expect to survive the challenge and I'm still considering what my next move is."
Only 180 valid signatures were required to get on the Republican primary ballot in the overwhelmingly Democratic district. Melichar submitted 235 signatures, but 67 were ruled invalid after a records exam, leaving her 12 signatures short of what she needed.
Sanchez, who did not even show up for the hearing on his nominating petitions, submitted only 70 signatures.
Lorch can now turn his focus to November.
"I think it just gives me an opportunity to really pay to attention to what the Democrats are doing and watch their campaigns while I'm also organizing my thoughts and activities," Lorch said.
Lorch is in the process of organizing a campaign fund and hopes to file the paperwork with the Federal Election Commission as early as this week. He has yet to collect any campaign contributions.
"I have not raised any money from anyone," Lorch said. "Obviously, I have been talking to people."
The 4th District, which is U-shaped to capture voters in heavily Hispanic precincts in the southwest and northwest sides of Chicago, is considered reliably Democratic.
In the 2016 presidential election, Hillary Clinton received 82 percent of the vote in the district. No Republican filed to run against Gutierrez in 2016, and in 2014 the Republican candidate for Congress, Hector Concepcion, received only 21.8 percent of the vote.
Despite those numbers, Lorch says that he believes he can win the general election. He said people are looking for a new approach in government
"I'm a math guy. I work in finance. I have an accounting degree," Lorch said. "I fully understand the composition of the district, both in terms of Democrat versus Republican, the ethnicities of different groups within the district; I've seen all the stats. I think the political landscape is changing every day."
In the Democratic primary race, County Commissioner Jesus "Chuy" Garcia is a big favorite to win. When Gutierrez made the surprising announcement in November 2017 that he would not run for re-election, he endorsed Garcia to succeed him.
Last week the candidate who many thought posed the greatest challenge to Garcia, Chicago alderman Carlos Ramirez-Rosa, withdrew from the race and endorsed Garcia.
In addition to Garcia, the other Democrats in the race are Chicago Alderman Proco "Joe" Moreno; Sol Flores, the executive director of La Casa Norte, a Logan Square nonprofit that serves youth and families facing homelessness; Richard Gonzalez; and Raymond Lopez.