Decatur Mayor’s Race Takes Unexpected Turn

 

Editor Paul Osborne

 

     The race for Mayor of Decatur took a shocking turn last week when candidate Kara Demirjian Huss, who had secured the top spot on the ballot by filing her candidacy petitions first, dropped out of the race when she was informed by City Clerk Kim Althoff that she could not be on the ballot due to her failure to file a receipt from her economic interest form. The form, which is filed with the Macon County Clerk, had actually been filed earlier but Demirjian Huss had not delivered the receipt showing it had been filed to the Decatur City Clerk and, as a result, was booted from the ballot!                

     Businesswoman Demirjian Huss was set to challenge incumbent Julie Moore Wolfe for the seat which is up for election in April. Also running for mayor are Councilman David Horn and Jacob Jenkins. Demirjian Huss had lined up a lot of support, and money (she had already reached her campaign’s financial goal) and was expected to be the strongest challenger to Mayor Moore Wolfe’s campaign to be re-elected — this time to a full 4-year term. Horn’s opportunity to win would have come from Demirjian Huss and Moore Wolfe splitting the vote and providing an opportunity for a Horn victory.

     This promised to be the most interesting mayoral campaign and election in a long time. Then the “receipt ruling” came down and all of the “campaign excitement” air came out of the race and was replaced by some tongues (and Facebook postings) wagging that something sneaky had been done to get Demirjian Huss out of the race. A few people also said to me that, since the city clerk essentially works for the mayor, something suspicious must have been going on. Wait a minute! Let’s hold the wagging tongues and Facebook postings from those who claim to “know the truth” and look at some of the facts involved in what stopped the mayoral campaign of Demirjian Huss.

     • EVEN though the mayoral election isn’t until April 2nd (there aren’t enough candidates to have a Feb. 26 primary election) last Wednesday Kara Demirjian Huss was already busy on her campaign. There is no question that she was a very serious candidate capable of raising support, lots of money and attention to her campaign. On Wednesday, she contacted me to set up an appointment to come to my office and talk about her campaign and associated issues. We agreed on a date later this month and I put it on my calendar. That happened in the middle of the afternoon.

     Only a few hours later I was shocked at the news about her withdrawing from the race and the reason for it! She sent me an email with some personal comments and the following statement: “As of today, I am officially withdrawing from the election. “This is a very sad and emotional day for me as I have been absolutely committed to leading our community. I received notice today from the City Clerk that my name has not been certified to be on the ballot for mayor. “At 8 am on November 19, I turned in my petitions to the City Clerk for nomination and then immediately filed into the public records my statement of economic interest with Macon County as required. “However, I neglected to then file with the City my receipt from the County for my statement of economic interest. “As a result, the City will not certify my petitions. “I will be immediately sending my supporters their donations back. In the future, I hope that the petition process is better communicated and streamlined. With that, I will not be in the Christmas Parade nor will I be having the December 3 Fundraiser Event. “I am grateful for the community’s support and wish the other candidates good luck.” And…just like that, a strong candidate in the mayor’s race was gone and her campaign was destroyed along with the hopes and efforts of her supporters — because of a failure to turn in the receipt showing she had filed her statement of economic interest with the county clerk.

     Most of the people I talked with after the news became public were as shocked as I was that a strong candidate’s promising campaign was destroyed by a small piece of paper that wasn’t delivered to the city clerk. Then, some talked about something sinister going on and how “politics” had knocked her off of the ballot.

     • I TALKED with Mayor Julie Moore Wolfe about the withdrawal of one of her opponents and she was just as shocked as I was at what had happened. She told me that she first heard about it after finishing her participation in an event and a reporter called her to get a comment over the Demirjian Huss withdrawal from the campaign. Moore Wolfe told me that she and Demirjian Huss have been friends for years and that, even though the mayor has one less opponent, and a strong one, she felt bad over what had happened. She also emphasized that she absolutely had no knowledge that this had happened before she was contacted by a reporter for a comment about it.

     • SINCE the city clerk works closely with the mayor, suspicions that somehow the mayor was able to eliminate a strong opponent by having the city clerk kick the opponent off of the ballot, are unfair to the mayor and city clerk. The city clerk must be impartial and apply the same explanation of the rules and acceptance of the necessary documentation, to every candidate. Also, what most people do not realize when they start rumoring that the city clerk didn’t explain everything to a candidate is, that, when the check list is completed, every candidate is required to sign his or her name acknowledging that each rule on the check list has been explained and they understand what’s involved. Undoubtedly, that is what Demirjian Huss immediately knew she had signed and the failure to return the statement of economic interest receipt to the county clerk was her fault, not the clerk’s fault.

      I contacted City Clerk Kim Althoff and asked her to respond to a few questions about the process in accepting nominating papers.

     Question: 1) Did you notify Demirjian-Huss when she filed her nominating petitions that she had to file the Statement of Economic Interest with the county clerk and bring a receipt back to you?

     City Clerk Althoff: “I took each candidate into to my office to accept their nominating papers. While going through the attached checklist with Ms. Demirjian-Huss, I immediately noticed that she had the Statement of Economic Interest attached within her nominating papers and not the receipt. At that moment, I informed her that the Statement of Economic Interest needed to be filed with the Macon County Clerk’s Office (which is indicated at the top of the Statement of Economic Interest) and that I needed the receipt. At that time, I had her remove the Statement of Economic Interest from her nominating papers. “We want to make sure that residents know that it is state law, not a city rule, that requires filing of the receipt as is detailed in the State of Illinois election guide and state statute.”

     Question #2: Did you know before looking at the petitions at the conclusion of the legal period that her filing wasn’t complete or did someone else (a candidate or a candidate’s supporter) catch the oversight and bring it to your attention?

     City Clerk Althoff: “Yes, I noticed that her filing was not complete. No candidate or candidate’s supporter brought it to my attention.”

     Question #3 Finally, did you notify Demirjiian-Huss before giving that information out to anyone else? City      

     Clerk Althoff: “We did not and have not notified anyone other than Ms. Demirjiian-Huss. A letter was sent to her.” Althoff indicated that, for procedure she relied on the Illinois Municipal League – Getting on the Ballot (See Page 4, Item 10) and Illinois Municipal League – Official Duties of the Municipal Clerk as the Local Election Official (See page 3, “Should a Clerk Provide Assistance to Candidates in Filing Petitions for Nomination”) She also mentioned documentation provided by the Illinois State Board of Elections regarding candidate information.

     Althoff said “All but one petition were in apparent conformity with Illinois state statutes, however, the City Clerk’s Office cannot certify anyone on the ballot until after the deadline for objections.” I think anyone who blames City Clerk Althoff for removing Demirjiian-Huss from the ballot, for any reason other than what Althoff mentioned, does not know what they are talking about — and I have a copy of the check sheet with Kara Demirjian-Huss’ signature on it as proof.

     Obviously, the check sheet document with Demirjian-Huss’ signature on it with instructions to bring the receipt back to the city clerk written on the document, shows the failure to return the receipt was simply an oversight by the candidate and not anything anyone else did to remove her from the ballot. It was a small, but costly oversight by the candidate and certainly I feel bad for her that it happened, but she quickly realized the mistake was her fault and withdrew from the race.

     • COMMITMENT remains. In a message to me, Demirjian-Huss indicated “it has been a difficult day and my heart is definitely hurting. But it definitely won’t change my commitment and love for this community. I am sure there are greater opportunities ahead.” Kara has been involved in the community for years and I’m certain she will still be involved as she indicated –whether that is in public office, or as a private citizen and business leader.

     • TONY ‘CHUBBY’ Brown has been sworn in as the new sheriff of Macon County, but as I’m writing this column, it is still unclear whether that one vote margin of victory over Republican Jim Root will hold. The news about this race seems to change back and forth, almost on a daily basis. Monday, the Macon County Republican Party sent a letter to the Macon County Clerk’s office asking for a full recount and for its candidate, Jim Root, to be declared sheriff.

     Over the weekend, Root, sent out this statement: “On 11/30/2018, as part of a discovery recount effort for the office of the Macon County Sheriff, it was discovered that two ballots were in possession of the County Clerk’s office on election night, and by admitted error, were not counted. “Those two ballots were determined to be votes for Jim Root. As a result of this information we invite Tony Brown to agree to jointly petition the court for a full recount so the citizens of Macon County may truly know the legitimately elected Sheriff. “Today was a long day for my team and County Clerk Steve Bean and his staff. I would like to thank him, as it is because of his unparalleled integrity we were made aware of the outstanding two ballots. I would also like to give a special thank you to all of the Republican and Democrat election judges. These results would not have been possible without their efforts.”

     Also, over the weekend, Root sent to County Clerk Steve Bean a “Demand for Retabulation of Official Returns for Hickory Point 1 Precinct to Comply with 10 ILCS 5/24B-15. Root wrote: “As disclosed at the Discovery Examination on November 30, 2018, there was/is an obvious discrepancy regarding the total number of votes cast and the precinct returns for said Hickory Point 1 Precinct, including the race for Macon County Sheriff.

     “The above cited statute obligates the election authority to correct the discrepancy on a mandatory basis. The duty exists even after the issuance of the Proclamation. Since the two ballots recording votes for Root were disclosed in the Discovery Examination, a Court Order does not appear mandatory for the correction. However, the duty is reposed upon the election authority and not any election contestant to take those measures to correct this particularized discrepancy.

     “The immediate correction, recall/ withdrawal of the November 20, 2018 Proclamation that Tony “Chubby” Brown was duly elected and issuance of a Proclamation that Jim Root is the duly elected Sheriff of Macon County by a count of 19,656 for Root to 19,655 for Brown is hereby demanded. “Respectfully submitted this 2nd Day of December, 2018.”

     By the time you read this column in this week’s Tribune, I’m sure there will be more developments. Right now, Brown is the newly-elected sheriff. I’ve never seen a local race for a major county office have this much activity in determining who won!

     • WHILE I’M on the subject of the sheriff’s office I want to especially thank Sheriff Howard G. Buffett for his service in the office over the past many months and, beyond that, everything he has done for this community over the past few years. It’s been nothing short of “amazing”!

     For those who are always complaining about “there’s nothing to see or do in Decatur”, maybe they should have some second thoughts since Howard, a man who has certainly seen a lot of the world, and could live and contribute in any community and citizens would love to have him there — sees something really special in our area and God bless him for his commitment to making Decatur and Macon County a better place to live. We are much better off from his personal commitment to us.

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