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Brown down? Hearing officer urges nixing Circuit Court clerk from mayoral ballot

Clerk of the Circuit Court of Cook County and mayoral candidate Dorothy Brown is interviewed in the Sun-Times newsroom last November. File Photo. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

Dorothy Brown should be kicked off the mayoral ballot, a hearing officer said Friday evening, a recommendation that would cut the field to a baker’s dozen candidates — if the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners agrees with it.

The Cook County Circuit Court clerk is 949 signatures short of the 12,500 minimum, thanks to a challenge brought against her petitions by Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.

Hearing officer Rodney Stewart recommended that Brown be thrown off the ballot Friday evening because she lacked the required number of signatures.

The decision comes after a protest Brown and her supporters held Friday morning, calling for Preckwinkle to follow in the footsteps of businessman Willie Wilson and drop her challenge to Brown’s candidacy. Wilson dropped his objection Tuesday, saying he wanted to let the voters decide.

But Preckwinkle’s legal team showed no signs of surrender, instead hailing Stewart’s finding.

“This was the right ruling,” Keri-Lyn Krafthefer, Preckwinkle’s attorney, said. “All candidates have to follow the same rules.”

Brown’s team argued the decision wasn’t fair. One of her lawyers said they asked for additional time to get the signatures, a request that Stewart denied.

“We feel that we’ve already collected many affidavits to meet our goal of 949 signatures and, had we had a short period of additional time, we would be able to meet that burden and be on the ballot,” Brown’s attorney Michael Glatt said.

It was the second extension requested by Brown’s campaign, this time they wanted “two days at the most” to come up with the sufficient affidavits that would have answered for unverified signatures.

“We have many,” Glatt said, but could not give a definitive number nor provide one after calling Brown.

Coming up with the signatures is a challenge, Glatt explained, “with a snowstorm and at night.”

“There’s no snow storm yet,” Stewart said.

“The more time we have, the more we will get,” Glatt said.

“Of course, but the board doesn’t have that kind of time,” Stewart objected. “What about early voting, should we put it off?”

Early voting is “tentatively” set to begin Jan. 28, said Jim Allen, a spokesman for the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners.

The election board won’t decide Brown’s fate until next week.

The panel will consider hearing officers’ recommendations on Brown and Neal Sales-Griffin — the only other mayoral hopeful still under challenge — next Tuesday, Allen said.

About 30 supporters of Brown rallied Friday to call for Preckwinkle to drop her challenge to the candidacy of the circuit court clerk.

After Wilson ended his petition to knock Brown off the mayoral ballot Tuesday, Brown has been pushing Preckwinkle to do the same — and Friday afternoon, the small but loud group backing her joined in those calls.

“Stop the challenge Toni,” protesters shouted as they paced the sidewalk in front of the Cook County Building. “Let the people decide.”

About 30 supporters of Dorothy Brown gathered to protest Toni Preckwinkle’s challenge. | Troy Closson/For the Sun-Times
About 30 supporters of Dorothy Brown gathered to protest Toni Preckwinkle’s challenge. | Troy Closson/For the Sun-Times

Holding signs reading “Enough is enough” and “Let our voices determine who should be the next mayor,” Brown’s supporters say the ultimate decision should be left to voters next month.

South Side resident Bryan King, 62, said he backed Brown’s claim that Preckwinkle added objections to her petitions after the deadline for challenges.

Preckwinkle should “do the right thing” and drop her challenge, he said.

“I believe that she knows that Dorothy is qualified and a big challenge to her campaign for mayor,” King said. “We’re out here to bring attention to that, because it’s not right.”

Many protesters passed out pamphlets about Brown’s candidacy and outwardly supported the circuit court clerk. But some, including Denise Sutton, 39, said they hadn’t yet made up their mind about voting for her come Feb. 26 but wanted the opportunity to if they decided.

Despite below-freezing temperatures, Andre Ferguson, 45, said making the trip from the city’s West Side where he lives was worth it for one reason: “The chance to stop Toni Preckwinkle.”

“The people of the city of Chicago can make their own decisions,” he said. “Stop letting them feel bullied by Toni to not vote for Dorothy Brown.”

Contributing: Troy Closson