A lawyer for Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle filed petition challenges Monday against state comptroller Susana Mendoza and four other women candidates for mayor as the process of paring down the field of 21 got underway.

Preckwinkle election lawyer Keri-Lyn Krafthefer denied the campaign was targeting women for removal from the ballot, even though the only female opponents left unchallenged were Amara Enyia, the community organizer backed by Chance the Rapper, and obscure candidate Sandra L. Mallory.

Mendoza’s supporters accused Preckwinkle and other mayoral opponents of ganging up on her to keep her out of the race.

Declaring Mendoza to be the “frontrunner” in the race for mayor, her campaign co-chairs Marty Castro and Kathy Byrne predicted the effort to discredit Mendoza’s nominating petitions will fail.

But after challenging the validity of 16,746 of the 25,660 signatures that Mendoza submitted a week ago, Krafthefer said there was no coordinated attack on Mendoza’s campaign.

If anything, she said, “a lot of different candidates have identified the same flaws as we have.”

Candidates for mayor need signatures from 12,500 registered Chicago voters to earn a spot on the ballot. Most try to submit petitions containing at least three times that many to withstand any legal challenge.

That’s why Mendoza’s petitions have received extra scrutiny after she submitted what would generally be considered a low total for a serious candidate.

Mendoza received a surprise ally with her petition problems Monday from former Chicago Public School Board president Gery Chico, who said Preckwinkle should leave her alone and let the voters decide.

“While Mendoza has little to complain about given her own long history in the same political machine which Preckwinkle now controls, I also believe that if she wants to be a candidate, we should have a robust debate, and voters should reach their own conclusions,” said Chico, who could be expected to benefit as much as anyone if the only other Latino candidate were removed from the race.

But there is a general consensus among other campaigns that Mendoza’s candidacy is in trouble because of her petitions.

Burton Odelson, a lawyer for former Chicago schools CEO Paul Vallas, said he didn’t bother to challenge Mendoza’s petitions because “that’s a done deal. She’s going to be way below” the 12,500 minimum.

Former state Sen. Rickey Hendon, the campaign manager for businessman Willie Wilson, agreed.

“They’re going to get her,” he said.

Odelson filed one challenge on Vallas’ behalf — against the nominating petitions of former Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy.

Representatives from Paul Vallas' mayoral campaign get to petitons of rival candidate Garry McCarthy. Photo by Rachel Hinton.

Representatives from Paul Vallas’ mayoral campaign get ready to challenge the petitons of rival candidate Garry McCarthy. Photo by Rachel Hinton.

Hendon arranged to file challenges against Circuit Clerk Dorothy Brown Cook, state Rep. Lashawn Ford, Ja’Mal Green, Neal Sales-Griffin and Roger Washington.

Hendon said he filed the challenges against Wilson’s wishes, because Wilson does not believe in removing opponents from the ballot.

In addition to Mendoza, Preckwinkle also challenged the nominating petitions of Brown Cook, as well as former Chicago Police Board President Lori Lightfoot and two other obscure candidates, Conrien Hykes Clark and Dorothy Brown D’Tycoon.

Krafthefer said the common denominator in Preckwinkle’s challenges was that the five candidates did not have enough signatures. She said no effort was made to investigate Enyia’s petitions because she submitted 62,000 signatures.

But Hendon offered a more forthcoming explanation for why all candidates file challenges.

“You go after the people you think are going to take votes from you,” Hendon said.

That’s why lawyer Jerry Joyce filed a challenge to former White House chief of staff Bill Daley. It’s also why it was a surprise that Daley filed no challenges after his campaign closely scrutinized the petitions of several opponents.

Supporters of mayoral candidate Jerry Joyce file objections against petitions of Bill Daley. Photo by Rachel Hinton.

Supporters of mayoral candidate Jerry Joyce file objections against petitions of Bill Daley. Photo by Rachel Hinton.

Daley’s campaign manager Jorge Neri issued a statement saying Daley opted in favor of “greater access to the ballot” — and made mysterious allegations against Joyce’s campaign.

“We have not seen the Joyce challenge,” Neri said. “However, we are looking into questionable tactics surrounding the Joyce campaign’s challenge and our team will take appropriate action with the proper authorities as necessary.”

Green took offense to Hendon’s tactics and called a news conference to say he had recorded him threatening to knock off all the black candidates.

“I’m not knocking off all the blacks just selective ones like Ja’Mal Green,” responded Hendon, who called Green a “rat snitch fink” for secretly recording their conversation.

With Mendoza out of town on vacation, it was left to her campaign to defend her.

Byrne, the daughter of Chicago’s only woman mayor Jane Byrne, said Preckwinkle’s attack on Mendoza shows “you don’t have to be a man to join the old boys club.”

But Mendoza’s opponents noted she has engaged in the petition challenge process in the past.

Lawyer Andrew Finko files a challenge to signatures for LaShawn K. Ford. Photo by Rachel Hinton.

Lawyer Andrew Finko files a challenge to signatures for LaShawn K. Ford. Photo by Rachel Hinton.

No challenges had been filed against nine of the 21 candidates who submitted petitions to run for mayor, according to the latest information provided by the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners.

Unchallenged so far are Chico, Enyia, Preckwinkle, Vallas, Wilson, Joyce, Mallory and former Ald. Bob Fioretti and former aldermanic candidate John Kozlar.

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