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Ald. Deb Mell Declares Victory After Election Board Decision

By Ted Cox | March 12, 2015 10:58am | Updated on March 12, 2015 4:28pm
 Ald. Deb Mell is seen here with Mayor Rahm Emanuel in this file photo.
Ald. Deb Mell is seen here with Mayor Rahm Emanuel in this file photo.
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DNAinfo/Patty Wetli

THE LOOP — The Board of Election Commissioners affirmed its initial final vote totals Thursday, making Ald. Deb Mell (33rd) a winner in her bid for re-election.

Yet, the board did so over the objections of Richard Means, a lawyer for Tim Meegan's aldermanic campaign in the 33rd Ward. Means said he would pursue a suit already filed in the race and hoped for a different result in Cook County Circuit Court.

"As they say, we'll see you in court," Means told Meegan supporters after the board ruling. "We still have a fighting chance here. You should continue to campaign."

But in a letter addressed to 33rd Ward residents tweeted Thursday afternoon, Mell referenced the election board's action and said, "I am honored and excited to continue to serve as your alderman."

 Michael Kasper, lawyer for Ald. Deb Mell, argues before the Board of Election Commissioners against Tim Meegan attorney Richard Means (r.).
Michael Kasper, lawyer for Ald. Deb Mell, argues before the Board of Election Commissioners against Tim Meegan attorney Richard Means (r.).
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DNAinfo/Ted Cox

"I would like to congratulate my opponents on a hard fought race," Mell wrote, adding "I am humbled by the numerous people who have supported me in this campaign."

The Meegan campaign has complained of "shenanigans" in the election, suggesting that Mell's father, retired alderman Dick Mell, was involved. The Mell campaign denied doing anything improper.

In preliminary unofficial final figures the board released Tuesday, the tally had Mell at 50.21 percent of votes cast. Her total of 4,103, out of 8,171 votes, was 17 above the 4,086 needed to top 50 percent and allow her to win outright.

Meegan's totals were 2,779 for 34.01 percent of the vote, while third-place finisher Annisa Wanat nabbed 1,289 votes for 15.78 percent.

The board's action Thursday was basically a "canvas of returns and proclamation of results," said Chairman Langdon Neal, in effect declaring that final count official.

Means argued a distinction between votes and ballots. "Votes" doesn't taken into account overvotes, undervotes and write-ins, Meegan's campaign chairman Nick Burt said earlier this month.

Of all the ballots cast in the 33rd Ward, approximately 150 failed to register a vote in the aldermanic race, Burt said. Either the voter in those instances voted twice for alderman or didn't vote for alderman at all.

If those ballots were used to determine the 50 percent plus one threshold, Mell's total would fall short.

"It just so happens, this was a close race," Neal said. The board acknowledged that if all ballots cast in the 33rd Ward were counted as the total, Mell would not reach a majority.

"Under 50 percent voted for Deb Mell," said Meegan supporter Kathryn Pensack.

"I know that this is a little metaphysical," Means told commissioners. "It's a matter of confusion to all of us."

Yet, Commissioner Marisel Hernandez said the city statute demanded "a majority of votes cast" in a race, not a majority of ballots cast. A voter could vote for mayor or clerk, but leave the alderman spot blank, and that ballot she said would not count as a vote in the aldermanic race.

Mell's attorney Michael Kasper agreed, arguing, "An undervote is not a vote cast for alderman. It's cast for clerk or mayor."

Similarly, board counsel James Scanlon cited a state statute in stating that write-ins were not counted in the race, as no candidate formally filed to be considered a write-in.

Neal agreed, saying the board doesn't count votes for Mickey Mouse or Jethro Bodine either.

Means said afterward he would "amend the pleading" in the original suit the campaign filed, and they'd argue the same before a judge.

Meegan campaign spokesman Graeme Zielinski said the Roosevelt High School teacher was continuing to campaign and knock on doors pending a final court decision.

Meegan issued a statement saying: "I am committed to a runoff election April 7 because I believe that's what the people of the 33rd Ward wanted when they went to the polls on Feb. 24. I'm hopeful the court will validate their voice quickly."

In all, 18 wards wound up in runoffs: the 2nd, 7th, 10th, 11th, 15th, 16th, 18th, 20th, 21st, 24th, 29th, 31st, 36th, 37th, 41st, 43rd, 45th and 46th.

In another close race that went the other way in the runoff determination, Ald. Emma Mitts (37th) fell 75 votes short of attaining a majority.

In addition, of course, the mayor's race is in a runoff, set for April 7, between incumbent Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Cook County Commissioner Jesus "Chuy" Garcia (D-Chicago).

The final official tally found Emanuel with 45.6 percent of the votes cast and Garcia with 33.6 percent, followed by Willie Wilson at 10.7 percent, Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd) at 7.4 percent and William "Dock" Walls at 2.8 percent.

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