The race for mayor in south suburban Harvey isn’t unlike the one in its neighbor to the north.
Two candidates advanced to an April 2 runoff out of a packed group of mayoral hopefuls. The race has been surrounded by controversy, scandal and corruption. And, amid the trouble, a city known for its elected officials’ wrongdoing is desperately looking for solutions to its mounting problems.
But in the suburb 24 miles south of Chicago’s City Hall, the levels of political jockeying have risen to new heights.
One candidate has been accused, without any evidence, of being a convicted felon. The other was the possible beneficiary of an alleged vote-buying scheme that is being investigated by Cook County authorities. Both have been embroiled in a lawsuit against each other for the past two years.
And the pair is vying to replace an outgoing mayor who, according to a federal criminal complaint, spent years shaking down a strip-club owner for thousands of dollars a month and allowed prostitution to occur in the club in exchange.
All this comes as voters look for a new path forward, one that will lift the burden of high water bills, fix pothole-filled streets and put an end to rising unemployment.
An investigation into vote-buying
The two candidates running for mayor are Park District President Anthony McCaskill and first-term Ald. Christopher Clark — who proposed a term-limit referendum that passed in 2016, preventing longtime Mayor Eric Kellogg from running for a fifth term.
Clark finished in the top spot in the first round of voting with 33.6 percent of the vote, or 1,097 ballots cast in his favor. McCaskill was second with 24.5 percent, or 802 votes.
The week after the primary, the Cook County sheriff’s office confirmed it was investigating claims that residents of Harvey were paid to vote for a particular candidate, which sources indicated was McCaskill.
The accusations included the possibility that vulnerable Harvey residents, including some addicted to drugs, were paid up to $40 to vote for McCaskill, sources told the Sun-Times. There was no indication that McCaskill — who finished 178 votes ahead of the third-place candidate — or his campaign were involved in the potential scheme.
“We did nothing wrong,” McCaskill said last week. “There is no evidence, no proof. No one has ever contacted me about any wrongdoings with my campaign.”
A felony and a background-check challenge
McCaskill has in recent weeks made a renewed push of his claims that Clark has a decades-old felony conviction in the state of North Carolina, and that Clark changed his name to conceal the conviction.
Though Clark attended Saint Augustine’s University in North Carolina for three years in the 1990s, several criminal records databases don’t show any felony convictions for Clark — whose name at the time was Clarence Christopher Clark.
Still, McCaskill challenged Clark to a federal background check.
“Christopher Clark hasn’t been convicted of any felonies, but we don’t know what Clarence Clark has been convicted of,” McCaskill said last week.
Clark turned down McCaskill’s challenge but denied being a felon. He also said McCaskill knew the real reason for his name change: Clark had a falling out with his father, whose name also was Clarence and who was estranged from the family. When it came time for Clark to graduate from law school in 2009, he didn’t want his father’s name on his law degree, so he changed his name to Christopher Joseph Clark.
“I think it’s really insensitive regarding my name,” Clark said. “It insults me, and it insults my mother, too.”
The Park District lawsuit
The battle between McCaskill and Clark, who once were friendly acquaintances, started back in 2016 when the Harvey Park District, led by McCaskill, filed a lawsuit against Clark’s law office.
The suit, which is still ongoing, alleged that Clark overbilled the Park District for his legal services while working as its attorney. McCaskill claimed last week that Clark’s attorney has purposely delayed the case until after the election.
Clark, meanwhile, said he had never before been accused of wrongdoing in his work as an attorney and claimed the lawsuit was politically motivated.
“This is just a political ploy on behalf of Mr. McCaskill,” Clark said. “Even though the Park District filed it when they filed it, [they did it] because he thought I was running for mayor.”
McCaskill said his focus as mayor would be creating economic opportunities for residents in the financially challenged city. That would include improving infrastructure to draw new business and creating transparency in the city’s budget, he said.
Among the endorsements McCaskill has landed include Secretary of State Jesse White.
Clark, who is endorsed by Rep. Robin Kelly, D-Ill., has framed himself as a political outsider targeting reform in a corruption-filled city. He has called for a federal investigation into city departments to expose any undiscovered corruption.
The alderman’s other priorities include lowering high taxes, adding street lights, repairing roads, removing abandoned houses and providing better police and fire services. Clark said more money isn’t needed for those improvements, but the budget simply has to be managed more effectively.