LINCOLN PARK — A group of candidates running against Ald. Michele Smith (43rd) have united to denounce a round of petition challenges they say came from her campaign, calling it “old-school ward politics” to push “diverse voices” off the ballot.
Candidates Derek Lindblom, Leslie Fox and Jacob Ringer have signed a letter asking Smith’s campaign to withdraw its objection to three other candidates seeking the 43rd Ward seat — Steve McClellan, Rebecca Janowitz and Matthew Roney.
McClellan, Janowitz and Roney have all been challenged by ward resident Joan Hollingsworth, who is connected with Smith’s campaign, the group says.
“It may be in our own narrow political interests to not have more candidates, but as residents of the 43rd ward, we believe it is in our community’s best interest to have these important and diverse voices heard,” the three wrote in a letter to Smith on Thursday.
Smith’s office did not respond to requests for comment.
According to her social media accounts, Hollingsworth works for KNI Communications. Sean Tenner, Smith’s campaign manager, is the president of KNI Communications. There are also images on social media of Hollingsworth campaigning for Smith.
After reaching out to Smith’s office for comment, Block Club Chicago was contacted by Hollingsworth.
“The rules for ballot access to run for alderman are very simple and everyone has to follow the same law and the regulations,” Hollingsworth said. “This stuff is important. If a candidate cannot get 473 valid signatures they have not met the legal requirements to run for alderman. The law is the law.”
Hollingsworth said that she is not a staff member of the campaign. She wouldn’t say whether Smith’s office worked with her to file the objection.
“I am involved with a number of community groups and causes,” she said. “I support Alderman Smith and think she has been an excellent alderman for my area.”
The letter from candidates Lindblom, Fox and Ringer was hand-delivered to Smith’s campaign around noon. While challenging petitions is common, Lindblom, Fox and Ringer say it sets a negative tone for the rest of the campaign season — even though knocking three candidates off the crowded ballot would benefit all three of them.
“We are trying to start this campaign on a positive note,” Lindblom said. “Let’s let the voters decide and return to the best reform traditions that the 43rd Ward used to be famous for.”
Jacob Ringer said he signed the letter so that residents of the 43rd Ward could “have the opportunity to hear from a variety of people who want to represent them at City Hall.”
“Chicago is set to enter a new era with a new mayor and potentially a majority first and second-term aldermans,” he said. “Our residents should have the opportunity to hear the vision of all of us who are willing to seek office.”
Fox said that although she has been ingrained in the world of Chicago politics for many years, she was shocked to learn how hard things can be for new candidates.
“I never understood exactly how rigged the system is against newcomers,” she said. “It’s a shame. It’s old-school ward politics.”
The challenges state that Hollingsworth is “a citizen desirous of seeing that the election laws governing the filing of nomination papers for the Office of Alderman of the Forty-Third (43rd) Ward of the City of Chicago (…) are properly complied with, and that only qualified candidates appear on the ballot for said office as candidates for the Consolidated Primary Election.”
Lindblom, Fox and Ringer hope that by showing solidarity in their request, Smith’s campaign will withdraw its challenges.
“We all want the best for our ward and do not believe that anti-democratic attempts to remove our neighbors from the ballot helps our community,” states the letter.
Janowitz said that she was “heartened” by the letter.
“It was very nice of them,” she said.
Janowitz said that her campaign is in the process of contesting the challenge to her petition, so she could not speak further about the matter. She did say that she now has a team in place and they are ready to move forward, despite the challenge.
McClellan, who was knocked off the ballot in 2015, said he “appreciated” the support from the letter. But he lacked confidence that it would lead to the challenges being withdrawn.
“If we are real about it, we know the alderman isn’t going to listen,” he said. “You think that I didn’t think she was going to challenge my signatures?”
McClellan said that he was “confident” his signatures will have no issue, calling the challenge “just another obstacle.”
At the time of publication, Roney could not be reached for comment regarding the letter, but he did say earlier that his campaign was aware of the challenges to his petition.
Read the letter here: