Two years after the VIP Party of North Riverside succeeded in throwing their opponents’ campaign into turmoil by initiating a protracted battle over nominating petitions, the party’s rivals are hitting back.

Last week, North Riverside resident Annabelle Downs filed a formal challenge to the nominating petitions filed by the VIP Party. Downs, who ran unsuccessfully for trustee under the Transparency and Accountability in Politics Party banner in 2013, seeks to have all three VIP candidates — Jason Bianco, Deborah Czajka and Joseph Iniguez — disqualified for the April 7 election.

The TAP Party was allied with H. Bob Demopoulos, an incumbent trustee who is running for re-election in April. Demopoulos created the Save Our Firefighters Party and heads a slate of three trustee candidates, including Joshua Garza and another former TAP trustee candidate, Marybelle Mandel.

Downs’ challenge is the only one being made this election season in North Riverside. VIP did not file a challenge to its opponents’ petitions prior to the Dec. 30 deadline.

How much traction Downs’ challenge will get is unclear, but the matter will be taken up by the local electoral board at a hearing scheduled for Tuesday, Jan. 6 at 4:30 p.m. in the council chambers of the North Riverside Village Commons, 2401 Desplaines Ave.

The three-person electoral board, which is governed by state statute, will be made up exclusively by members of the VIP Party, including Mayor Hubert Hermanek Jr., Village Clerk Kathy Ranieri and Trustee Vera Wilt.

The trustee spot on the electoral board goes to the senior-most trustee on the board, who is actually Demopoulos. However, since he is a candidate in the election, he is unable to hear the challenge as a member of the electoral board.

According to Down’s complaint, VIP’s petitions are being challenged for two reasons. The first, according to Downs, is that VIP used two different petition forms to gain its 465 signatures. Illinois law, according to the complaint, requires that all petition sheets be identical

“Since the petition signature sheets must be the same to be valid, and they are clearly not the same here, VIP has failed to comply with [the] statute,” the complaint states.

The use of two different petition sheets also created a separate problem, the complaint alleges. One petition form, according to the complaint, clearly states that it is a “petition for nomination [to form a new political party].” The other form merely states “petition,” according to the complaint.

 Rules for submitting nominating petitions for established political parties and new political parties are different under Illinois law. In North Riverside and elsewhere, political officials often slightly change the names of their parties prior to an election to technically create a new political party.

Petitions for established political parties follow different rules regarding the number of signatures needed and dates for filing. Since only some of the VIP petition sheets indicate forming a new political party, according to the complaint, the party has confused voters.

In fact, the complaint alleges, the VIP Party — or Voters Improvement Party — is a well-established political party in North Riverside, as the party’s own website announces.

In the wake of the challenge, the VIP Party website now has privacy settings blocking access to it. However, a cached version of the website’s pages was still viewable Monday morning. In the “About Us” section of the website, it states, “The V.I.P./Voters Improvement Party was started in the 1970s by Frank Danno, Jim Holub, George Zdarsky and Dick Zelnys.”

As a result, according to the complaint, “VIP has filed under the wrong article, and after the time allowed for established parties, and therefore, its nomination papers are not compliant with the election code and must be stricken.”

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