Voter turnout in Maywood is usually pathetically low (17 percent in the 2011 election), but given the sorry state of the political system there, it’s hard to totally blame the electorate.
Too often lackluster – if not downright shameful – candidates are the ones running for elected office in the western suburb.
Beyond that, the pre-election jockeying is enough to turn the few idealistic souls left in town into cynics.
Consider an electoral board hearing this past week. The electoral board is, by state law, comprised of the mayor, the village clerk and the most veteran village trustee. In this instance, that means Maywood Mayor Henderson Yarbrough, Village Clerk Gary Woll and Trustee Edwenna Perkins.
The members serve as a sort of three-judge panel with the power to prevent trustee, clerk and mayoral candidates from appearing on the April 9 ballot after hearing evidence from objectors. The eligibility of candidates to run can be challenged based on a number of things, including failure to pay water bills or permit fees, and collecting phony signatures on nominating petitions.
Not surprisingly, candidates not tied to the power establishment – meaning Yarbrough and his wife, Cook County Recorder of Deeds Karen Yarbrough, who are considered the power brokers in town – are now fighting to get on the ballot as they fend off challenges in front of the electoral board.
One of those candidates, would-be trustee Cheryl Ealey-Cross, raised an interesting question during her hearing this past Thursday: how can the mayor be allowed to sit in judgment of her via the electoral board? After all, even though she’s not running for his seat, she’s running against his allies on the village board, she’s publicly criticized his leadership and she’s sued his village administration over its blatant disregard for the Illinois Freedom of Information Act.
It’s an interesting question on a couple of levels.
First, it’s similar to one that recently – and successfully – was raised in one of the few communities in the Chicago region more politically tumultuous than Maywood: Cicero. Juan Ochoa, who is running against Town President Larry Dominick, was able to get the Cicero electoral board replaced after arguing in a lawsuit that Dominick’s presence on the panel was a glaring conflict of interest.
Second, there are concerns that some of those filing challenges to Maywood candidates have ties to the Yarbroughs – which obviously would represent another potential conflict of interest for the mayor in regards to his seat on the local electoral board.
Ray Jackson filed objections to the candidacies of Ealey-Cross and several others, records show. Turns out he’s the son of Regina Rivers, a local school board president who’s married to Maywood Trustee Ron Rivers. Regina Rivers confirmed her relationship to Jackson and acknowledged that she and her husband “are supporters of the Yarbroughs.”
OK, so how did this objection get rolling? Whose idea was it? And who’s paying for Jackson’s lawyer, James Nally?
Nally stormed off after Thursday’s hearing when the BGA and FOX 32 inquired, barking that such questions were stupid.
Jackson hung up when we reached him on the phone.
And Regina Rivers politely declined to answer, saying she’ll “have to defer” to Nally for comment.
Nally? Wait, that sounds familiar. . . . Oh yes, he’s been involved in the Yarbroughs’ campaigns in the past, and has donated money to Karen Yarbrough’s campaign fund, including $200 in August, according to state records and interviews.
And Nally is one of the attorneys trying to keep Dominick off the ballot in Cicero.
Perhaps the largest curiosity, though, involved a Maywood resident named LeVon Simpson who challenged the ballot eligibility of Ealey-Cross and others.
Simpson relayed to us after the hearing that a campaign worker for one of the candidates running for the village board paid him $50 to file objections.
“Everybody has a price,” Simpson said.
Simpson refused to say which candidate was behind his efforts – unless we coughed up $150.
Ealey-Cross called Simpson’s admission “so sad.”
But it’s not illegal.
Cook County Clerk David Orr’s office is one of the prime election overseers in the area. Orr spokeswoman Courtney Greve told us via email that “motivation is irrelevant when it comes to objecting to a petition. Someone can be paid to do it, just like someone can pay an attorney to file the objection. The only requirement is that the objector is a registered voter in the district.”
And Simpson apparently is.
Either way, Karen Yarbrough said she’s not behind any of the ballot challenges. Her husband scurried off, with reporters literally in chase, before we could pin him down on this question – and on whether he’s backing his $42,000-a-year village secretary, Antonette “Toni” Dorris, in her run for village trustee.
However, Dorris (who also is a member of Regina Rivers’ school board, in Melrose Park-Maywood-Broadview District 89) is clearly backing the mayor, having donated $1,000 to the Yarbroughs’ political party late last year, state records show.
Dorris may speak with her wallet, but she otherwise seems the silent type. She didn’t want to talk to us when we stopped by her office last week, but said to call her cell later. Turns out the cell number she gave us was disconnected. We tried her on her office line a few days later and she pledged to call us back, but we never heard back. Heck, we understand. She’s likely crazy-busy serving as a secretary for a part-time mayor whose full-time $72,000-a-year job is off-site with Cook County Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown’s office.
Overall, there are five mayoral candidates (a sixth was just bounced by the electoral board), two running for clerk and nine trustee candidates.
We’ve been told that, in effect, the jockeying is just routine politics, that this is how it works in Illinois.
Yeah, we know, but look how well this system has served us. How’s it working there in Maywood, where village finances have pushed the municipal government onto a perilous perch? Where crime is serious and unrelenting? Where property taxes are soaring? Where relatives of the mayor end up with contracts from those seeking business or approval from village officials?
Greve noted that Orr “has been calling for all [ballot] objections to be handled centrally for years – but the political will isn’t there.”
In other words, have the General Assembly abolish these local electoral boards in favor of a centralized panel at the county level.
Perhaps it’s time to kick start that discussion, for no other reason than to provide relief to the ever-weary residents of Maywood.
This analysis was written and reported by the Better Government Association’s Robert Herguth. To reach him, call (312) 821-9030 or email email@example.com.