With objections to both candidates’ nominating petitions now out of the way, incumbent Kimberly Lightford and challenger James T. Smith are now prepared to run for Illinois’ 4th Senate District in the March 21 Democratic primary.

Lightford, a former Maywood trustee was first elected to the senate in 1998, and is now running for a third term. She has served as chair of the Senate’s education committee and has also served on its higher education committees as well as its financial institutions committee and its labor and appropriations committee.

Smith, who is seeking elected office for the first time, is a longtime high school teacher in Austin. He also operates the Chicago based not-for-profit organization Servants of the Word Youth Outreach, headquartered at 4320 W. Madison St. The organization, according to Smith, provides day care services and after school programming.

Smith said his top priority is to improve the educational options available in the 4th District. “Both Chicago and the (western) suburbs have large numbers of children failing in statewide testing. This is a problem since we have the chair of both the House and Senate education committees in the district,” he said.

Both candidates, in recent weeks, cried foul play after investigating the nominating petitions submitted by their opponents to the Cook County Board of Elections.

The board recently upheld 217 of the 290 signatures Smith challenged, but this was not nearly enough as Lightford had submitted well over 4,000 signatures. The minimum needed to reserve a spot on the ballot is 1,000.

Smith said that “at least 3,000 signatures” gathered by Lightford appeared suspicious, claiming that numerous individuals who signed his petitions also had signed Lightford’s, including a close friend whose signature Smith had personally collected.

Still, he said, the decision was made to call off the challenge in order to allow the campaign to focus on fundraising for the upcoming election.

Lightford also alleged that a number of Smith’s signatures were either duplicates or belonged to people who do not reside in the 4th District. Her estimation was that out of the 1,893 signatures submitted by Smith, only 1,100 were valid.

“I wouldn’t go so far as to say there was wrongdoing,” she said. “When you’re petitioning, people sign and don’t know whether they live in the district. If the attorneys review the petitions and it looks like there could be an insufficient number (of valid signatures), you pursue a challenge.”

Lightford said that she does not plan to further challenge Smith’s petitions. “Now it’s just time to run,” she said.

Lightford said she plans to address Forest Park residents at a candidate’s forum hosted by the group Citizens United in Forest Park (CUinFP) on Monday, Jan. 30 in the Austin Room of the Forest Park Library. According to CUinFP representatives, the group is hoping that Smith will attend a second forum, scheduled for Thursday, Feb. 23.