Sen. Silverstein 1 signature short in ballot challenge, election board finds

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Sen. Ira Silverstein, D-Chicago, watches the Senate vote last October at the Capitol in Springfield, Ill. File Photo. (Rich Saal/The State Journal via AP)

A roller-coaster week for state Sen. Ira Silverstein took a plunge Tuesday as the embattled lawmaker fights to stay on the Democratic primary ballot to retain his North Side and north suburban seat.

He might lose that fight over the signature of one registered voter.

Silverstein’s wild ride began lastThursday, when the newly appointed legislative inspector general concluded a sexual harassment investigation that cleared Silverstein of sexual harassment and “unlawful conduct.” But she also deemed his behavior “unbecoming a legislator.”

Then on Sunday, a hearing officer for the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners ruled in Silverstein’s favor on a resident’s challenge to the incumbent senator’s nominating petitions, allowing Silverstein to squeak by with two signatures more than the 1,000-signature requirement to stay on the ballot.

But the board reconsidered that recommendation on Tuesday after the hearing officer acknowledged that he mistakenly double-counted one signature, according to board spokesman James Allen.

With affidavits from two additional voters saying they hadn’t signed Silverstein’s petitions, his total was trimmed down to 999 signatures — just one short of the ballot requirement.

State State Sen. Ira Silverstein, D-Chicago (pictured on May 28, 2017). | Seth Perlman/AP file photo

State State Sen. Ira Silverstein, D-Chicago (pictured on May 28, 2017). | Seth Perlman/AP file photo

The board ordered the hearing officer to review the case, and he is expected to come back with another recommendation — or affirm his decision — in the next day or two, Allen said.

Neither Silverstein nor his lawyer immediately returned messages seeking comment Tuesday evening.

The board will make the final ruling, but either way the dispute is likely to end up in court, a daunting prospect with early voting slated to begin in just over a week, on Feb. 8.

“We’re getting to the point where we need to fish or cut bait,” Allen said.

After a woman accused Silverstein of sexual harassment last year, four other Democrats crowded the field for the state Senate seat that Silverstein has held for 18 years.

Last October, victims’ rights advocate Denise Rotheimer accused Silverstein of making unwanted advances, using “power” and “mind games” with her as she tried to advance legislation in Springfield.

Denise Rotheimer testifies before an Illinois House committee in Chicago Tuesday on a sexual harassment bill. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

Denise Rotheimer testifies before an Illinois House committee in Chicago Tuesday on a sexual harassment bill. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

The allegations cost Silverstein his post as majority caucus chair and helped prompt an overhaul of the statehouse’s handling of sexual harassment claims, including the appointment of a legislative inspector general after two years without anyone at the post.

That inspector, Julie Porter, ruled last week that Silverstein’s behavior didn’t violate state ethics laws, but noted that “he did behave in a manner unbecoming a legislator in violation of the Illinois Governmental Ethics Act,” because “he did not maintain an appropriate professional distance from the proponent of a bill he was sponsoring.”

“Silverstein never requested sexual favors from Rotheimer, and there was no conduct of a sexual nature. I also find that Silverstein did not make ‘sexual advances’ to her, welcome or unwelcome,” Porter wrote.

Ram Villivalam, Zehra Quadri, David A. Zulkey and Caroline McAteer-Fournier are Silverstein’s challengers in the March 20 primary.

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