Cook election panel to decide whether convicted ex-Streets and San boss remains on ballot
BY BRIAN SLODYSKO Staff Reporter January 8, 2014 5:52PM
Updated: February 10, 2014 11:56AM
Convicted former Streets and Sanitation Commissioner Al Sanchez may be on probation, but that doesn’t mean he’s barred from running for a Cook County Board seat, his lawyer argued Wednesday during a hearing about whether Sanchez should be on the ballot.
A quirk in Illinois law allows felons to hold county and statewide office — even if they are barred from holding city office.
That sets the stage for Sanchez — once a member of the now-defunct but once powerful Hispanic Democratic Organization — to return to politics following a conviction for his role in a City Hall hiring scheme that awarded jobs based on clout.
At least one objector who filed a challenge to Sanchez’s candidacy agrees he can eventually run for the seat.
Where the camps differ is when a convicted felon like Sanchez can run for office. The Cook County Electoral Board, whose hearing officer listened to arguments Wednesday, is expected to rule on the matter, as well as over a separate challenge questioning the validity of Sanchez’s nominating petitions, on Tuesday.
Sanchez attorney Dan Johnson maintained his client can take office so long as a federal judge releases him from probation before the victor of the upcoming election is seated, next December.
But a lawyer for objector Gia Smith, who in a filing with the electoral board states she lives in the district where Sanchez is running, maintains Sanchez is ineligible because he had not completed his sentence by the time he filed his candidacy paper work.
“When a candidate submits his paperwork to run for office, the candidate states he is eligible — not that he will be eligible for office,” said Adam Lasker, Smith’s attorney.
An attorney for Sanchez rival, Robert R. McKay — another Democrat running for the 4th District seat — argued the “infamous” nature of Sanchez’s crime should disqualify him from running. Indeed, in the past, the state law has been interpreted to rule out felons for running in a municipal contest, including mayor or village board.
Sanchez, who is running for the county board seat representing parts of the suburbs and Southeast Side, did not attend Wednesday’s hearing, but said he thought he had a “good argument,” for staying on the ballot. Sanchez said he believes his case may even “set precedent” for others who were convicted of felonies but want to get back on the ballot.
It may all be moot if the federal judge overseeing Sanchez’s probation does not ultimately release him in time.
“If Mr. Sanchez sentence is not complete by Dec. 1, he can’t hold office,” Johnson, his attorney, said. On the other hand, “if the sentence ends before he holds office, then there is no prohibition.”
In other words, to paraphrase another legally-challenged Illinois politician, he will be golden.
Contributing: Natasha Korecki