By Nona Tepper
As a political action committee's quest to put video gaming on an upcoming election ballot continues, some members are focusing on the structure of the Forest Park Electoral Board, pointing out that its three members' political and business ties create a conflict of interest.
Let Forest Park Vote still hopes to ask voters the question, "Shall video gaming be prohibited in the village of Forest Park?" The ballot question, if allowed, is binding, which means that if a majority of Forest Parkers were to vote against the practice, video gaming — which currently exists — will be outlawed in the village.
In the coming weeks, the group's case will be heard by the Illinois Court of Appeals. They hope the court will appeal the recent decision of a Cook County judge and the local electoral board, both of which tossed the referendum out over improper petition headings. But if the court overturns a subsequent Cook County judge's ruling, the matter will end up right back in the lap of the Forest Park Electoral Board.
Some have called for Mannix to recuse himself, since he owns a business with the bar owner who filed three advisory petitions to block Let Forest Park Vote's question from appearing on the April 2016 and upcoming March 20 primary ballot.
"Commissioner Mannix should have recused himself just because his business partner stands to make hundreds of thousands of dollars" from video gaming, said Geoff Binns-Calvey, a Let Forest Park Vote volunteer.
Others believe Calderone should recuse himself, since he works as liquor commissioner and bar owners, the ones who benefit from the practice of video gaming, also contribute to his political campaign. Illinois law states that a mayor must either act as the liquor commissioner or designate someone to assume that role. Calderone earns $30,000 for his work as mayor and is paid an additional $10,000 as liquor commissioner.
"Forest Park has never designated another to assume that role," Calderone wrote in an email to the Forest Park Review as an explanation for why he took up the post.
Bar owners also comprise some to the top donors to Calderone's political campaign, according to records from the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that catalogs campaign finance data. Shanahan's and McGaffers Saloon have contributed a combined $8,510 to Citizens for Anthony Calderone over the years, ranking them in that political action committee's top 25 donors.
Others were confused by Calderone's recent vote to toss the petitions. They point out that in October 2016, Calderone abstained from voting on the matter because he was the liquor commissioner. Calderone now said he didn't vote at that time because he was "torn on the issue."
This time, "there was a definitive legal argument presented based upon evidence and it is the electoral board's duty to act upon the evidence presented. I acted, not emotionally but intellectually, with my understanding of the law," Calderone wrote in an email.
But, "if the mayor abstained from a vote because he was the liquor commissioner when the video gaming ban was lifted, then he should abstain from this same vote. It's the same issue," Binns-Calvey rebutted.
If the case does again make it to the electoral board, the three members must decide if the number of inactive voters — those who had never changed their status despite bounced mail from the Cook County Clerk's Office — must be counted in the pool of total registered voters in town. They must also make a final decision on how many valid signatures the political action committee has collected.
If the fight proceeds beyond the electoral board, pro-video gamers can also take the case back to Circuit Court. Jordan Kuehn, president of Let Forest Park Vote, said the same Madison Street bar owner submitted three advisory questions for that ballot as he did for the upcoming March 20 ballot, all in an effort to block the group's binding referendum from appearing. Only three questions are allowed on any ballot per state law.
As the legal fight continues, Let Forest Park Vote recently hit its fundraising goal, raising more than $3,500 in about a week through GoFundMe, which was active online and publicized, Kuehn said.
"We're covered right now for the electoral board and the Appellate Court. As far as moving forward from there, I assume we would probably need another round of fundraising," Kuehn said. "This is clearly an effort to out-buy the people. You're not going to see [Madison Street bar owners] going out doing a GoFundMe. They've got plenty of money and we're just doing what we can."
This story has been updated to reflect that the Cook County judge and local electoral board both tossed Left Forest Park Vote on Video Gaming's proposed referendum out over improper petition headings.