A decision on whether candidates for North Riverside’s VIP Party will appear on the April 7 ballot likely will be made Wednesday, Jan. 14. That’s the date the village’s electoral board will consider the challenge to the VIP nominating petitions, filed Dec. 30 by Annabelle Downs, a resident backing a rival slate of candidates from the Save Our Firefighters Party.
The hearing will take place at the North Riverside Village Commons, 2401 Desplaines Ave. at 4 p.m. At the Tuesday hearing, both sides initially chose a different date to reconvene but changed it to Jan. 14 due to a scheduling conflict.
Both sides met briefly on Tuesday to set a schedule for filing documents related to the case. James Nally, a well-known Chicago election attorney representing the VIP Party, has until Friday, Jan. 9 to file a motion to dismiss the challenge.
Downs’ counsel, veteran election attorney Lawrence Zdarsky — who also represented Transparency and Accountability in Politics Party (TAP) candidates, including Downs, when their nominating petitions were challenged by VIP in 2013 — has until 5 p.m. on Jan. 13 to file a response to Nally’s motion to dismiss.
The local electoral board comprises Mayor Hubert Hermanek Jr., Village Clerk Kathy Ranieri and Trustee Vera Wilt, all of whom are members of the VIP Party.
There are three village trustee seats up for election on April 7, and two separate slates of candidates have filed to participate in that race.
The VIP Party, which has controlled the village board for more than a quarter-century, has slated incumbents Jason Bianco and Deborah Czajka, along with Joseph Iniguez. Both Bianco and Czajka were appointed to the board after the 2013 election. Iniguez is a retired police officer who is chairman of the North Riverside Civil Service Commission.
Save Our Firefighters has slated H. Bob Demopoulos, who was elected trustee in 2011 and is seeking re-election; Marybelle Mandel, who ran alongside Downs on the TAP Party slate in 2013 for trustee; and Joshua Garza, a newer resident of the village who is a military veteran.
Downs has challenged the VIP slate’s nominating petitions for two reasons. First, she claims that the party violated state election law by circulating two different petition forms to gather signatures.
Second, Downs claims, the use of different forms sowed confusion because only one of them explained to registered voters that they were signing something indicating the “VIP Party” was a new political committee. The other form did not indicate the committee was new.
And if the party was not new but instead an already established one, there are different rules and a different timeline for submitting nominating petitions for the 2015 election cycle. Downs alleges that the VIP candidates are, in fact, being slated by an established North Riverside political party.
Any decision made by the electoral board can be appealed to Cook County Circuit Court.
That was the case in 2013, when TAP appealed the electoral board’s ruling, disqualifying their entire slate. The circuit court affirmed the local electoral board’s ruling.
TAP then appealed that decision to the Illinois Court of Appeals, which less than two weeks before the 2013 election, reinstated all of TAP’s trustee candidates to the ballot, but disqualified the party’s mayoral candidate, Rocco DeSantis.
The protracted challenge process threw TAP’s entire campaign into turmoil. Anyone who voted early did not have the option of voting for TAP candidates, and anyone who wanted to vote for TAP candidates at the polls on Election Day had to ask for a specially printed paper ballot.
The VIP Party trustee candidates along with Hermanek, who ended up running unopposed for mayor, swept the 2013 election.