THE LOOP — An attorney for a 33rd Ward aldermanic challenger on Monday said he would file suit over "irregularities" in last week's election and called for a recount and a runoff in the race involving Ald. Deb Mell.
Last Tuesday's initial vote indicated a runoff between Mell and Tim Meegan, a Roosevelt High School teacher. On Friday, the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners said the latest count had Mell two votes above a majority, meaning she would win outright. Final official results weren't expected until March 12, after the U.S. Postal Service has had a chance to deliver all absentee ballots postmarked by Election Day.
Andrew Finko, an attorney for Meegan's aldermanic campaign, charged Monday that the campaign run by Mell and her father, former alderman and 33rd Ward Democratic Committeeman Dick Mell, had engaged in "numerous election improprieties throughout the 33rd Ward." He accused the Mells of "overt, blatant electioneering across the ward" on Election Day.
"I'm proud of every single vote I got," Ald. Mell responded. "I don't know what they're talking about. And I look forward to resolving this sooner rather than later."
She added that, taking nothing for granted, she continues to campaign door to door. "It's a little bit of a nail biter," Mell acknowledged, as both sides wait for the final ballots to be counted.
At a Loop news conference Monday, Meegan campaign poll watchers said they had seen "a large number of irregularities," including open electioneering at polling places, single judges helping voters with their ballots and Mell campaign workers rifling through ballots after the polls closed.
Calling it "a step back in history" in Chicago's infamous political corruption, Finko said the problems were "widespread" in the 33rd Ward, with Monday's charges just "the tip of the iceberg."
Meegan poll watcher Carl Nyberg claimed to have seen "a large number of irregularities," including Mell campaign workers using one polling place as a staging area to distribute yard signs and political literature. His colleague Linda Loew said Mell campaign workers were wearing campaign buttons and carrying campaign literature in a polling place, contrary to election law, and were clearing some voters at the door.
Don Olson, who coordinated Meegan poll watchers, said there were reports of "many broken rules, much electioneering," adding, "The irregularities are so numerous that [a runoff] is the only solution."
Calling the 33rd Ward a Mell "fiefdom," attorney Aaron Goldstein said, "I saw a lot of the shenanigans as well."
Finko said he would be filing a suit in Cook County Circuit Court Tuesday calling for a recount and for discovery to review all election materials including ballots. He said it was a preliminary step to keep legal challenges open, in that "under the municipal code, we have no choice but to file it or forgo any sort of challenge."
According to Finko, they had to file for an election contest within a week, and "we have to file the complaint on the best information we have." He expected more legal issues with discovery and other reports coming in, adding, "The complaint will be expanded. There's no doubt."
The Mells have a tangled political relationship. Dick Mell retired as 33rd Ward alderman in July 2013 after 38 years in office and was replaced by his daughter Deb, a state representative before being appointed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Dick Mell registered as a city lobbyist.
United Working Families, a political umbrella group including the Chicago Teachers Union that backed Meegan and also supports his suit, raised complaints early in the campaign about the elder Mell making "in-kind" political contributions to his daughter in the form of free rent for campaign office space, in excess of what's allowed for a lobbyist to offer. Deb Mell later explained that was actually made by the 33rd Ward Democratic Committee, which is run by Dick Mell.
A phone number given as the committeeman's office by both the Cook County site for elected officials and the Cook County Democrats goes to the current alderman's office, which was closed for business Monday on Pulaski Day.
The Chicago Board of Election Commissioners was likewise closed on Monday for the holiday.
Finko said Monday the suit was "about accountability for holding Deb Mell responsible for her father's old-school tactics."
He added that "ultimately, the goal obviously is to dispute a lot of these irregular votes. And I think the proper and just result is there should be a runoff."
Goldstein, who defended disgraced former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, Mell's son-in-law, in both his federal corruption trials, went on to lose to a Mell-appointed successor to Deb Mell in the state House in the Democratic Primary a year ago.
"This is not personal in any way whatsoever," Goldstein said Monday. He said it was about returning democracy to the 33rd Ward against the "Mell machine."
Goldstein said, "What's done in the past seems to keep going on and on and on," adding, "this is old Chicago."
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