September 17, 2014
Al Sanchez, one of two convicted felons running for the Cook County Board, was kicked off the ballot Thursday by a county elections panel.
Sanchez, former Chicago Streets and Sanitation commissioner, and former Ald. Isaac Carothers (29th) both filed paperwork to run, hoping to take advantage of a quirk in Illinois law that allows convicted felons to run for county and statewide office — even if they are barred from holding municipal office.
Sanchez, whose candidacy was contested, was booted by the Cook County Electoral Board, which ruled he was ineligible because he is still on court-ordered probation. Sanchez was convicted of mail fraud in a scheme that rewarded political foot soldiers with jobs.
Carothers, whose candidacy was not challenged, remains on the ballot. And according to at least one elections expert, the former West Side alderman — who was convicted of bribery, mail fraud and tax fraud — is likely to stay on the ballot.
“There is felony disenfranchisement for life in some states,” said Richard Means, an election law attorney for more than 30 years. “In Illinois we’re always more ‘progressive.’ ”
Carothers, who could not be reached for comment, was discharged from court supervision in September, according to federal court records. In November, he filed to run for the open 1st District seat on the West Side.
“In the Carothers case, he doesn’t have a legal impediment,” Means said. “I think anybody who would vote for him ought to have his head examined . . . but it is not a qualifications issue — it’s a political campaign issue.”
“That’s where Al Sanchez got tripped up,” Means said.
Dan Johnson, Sanchez’s attorney, had maintained that his client could take office so long as a federal judge released him from probation before the victor of the upcoming election is seated in December. But to make his plan work, Sanchez said he was counting on a federal judge to discharge him from probation a year early, this coming summer.
All of that was moot because the Electoral Board ruled that Sanchez made a false oath because he was still on probation when he signed his campaign papers for the 4th District seat, which represents parts of the suburbs and Southeast Side.
Sanchez, who did not attend the hearing, has five days to appeal the board’s ruling. When reached by phone, he said he had not decided whether to file a challenge in court.
“I think our argument was valid,” Sanchez said. “I’m a registered voter, I got enough signatures — I think the people should have had the opportunity to speak. Let the people decide who should represent them.”
He added that, if elected, he had been looking forward to working with Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.
“I think she is somebody that cares about the community and I want to be part of that,” Sanchez said.
Preckwinkle said neither of the two men would be welcome on the board.
“Both of them were convicted of offenses that relate to their public service,” Preckwinkle told reporters Wednesday. “I would think that adding them to the Cook County Board of Commissioners would not be a plus.”