Antoinette "Toni" Gray held a fundraiser in Forest Park in December, 2013.

MAYWOOD — The Cook County Clerk’s office has released official confirmation of Antoinette “Toni” Gray’s removal from the ballot. Ms. Gray, a Maywood businesswoman, hadsought to challenge sitting State Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch for the 7th District General Assembly seat in the Democratic Primary race. The decision was made at a case hearing yesterday, but had not yet been confirmed via the Clerk’s website by the time the story went to press.

According to the “Hearing Officer’s Report and Recommended Decision,” Gray’s candidacy was ruled unconstitutional based on the grounds that she had not established official residency in the 7th District two years prior to the point at which she filed her candidacy. The passage of the Illinois Constitution most relevant to this matter is as follows:

“To be eligible to serve as a member of the General Assembly, a person must be a United States citizen, at least 21 years old, and for the two years preceding his election or appointment a resident of the district which he is to represent. In the general election following a redistricting, a candidate for the General Assembly may be elected from any district which contains a part of the district in which he resided at the time of the redistricting and reelected if a resident of the new district he represents for 18 months prior to reelection.”

The Report noted that the precise meaning of residency was addressed by the courts, namely inDillavou v Board of Sangmon County, 260 III.App.3d 127 (4th Dist., 1994), wherein the definition of residency was explained as “the principle dwelling place of a person — the place he considers ‘home’. It denotes a permanency of some measure. Two elements are necessary to create a residence: (1) a physical presence in that place and (2) the intention of remaining there as a permanent home.”

In the Dillavou case, a candidate had moved into a district in which he intended to run for office “shortly before the 18 month cut-off expired.” While his wife and children resided in a home located in his former district, the candidate himself rented a townhome in the district in which he was looking to run. On this basis, the court “held that in that case, the facts supported the election board factual finding that the Candidate resided in the new district.”

The hearing board held that Ms. Gray’s circumstances were different from the aforementioned candidate’s, because, unlike the above candidate’s townhome, her transitional residence, which Ms. Gray said was her Farmers Insurance office at 901 S. 5th Avenue, Unit #B, Maywood, IL, was not deemed a permanent dwelling.

The hearing board noted that although Ms. Gray claimed this as her residence within the 18 month cut-off, she had in fact been registered to vote in Roselle, Illinois, where she’d lived prior to moving back to her hometown of Maywood. The law states that one’s place of residency must not be distinct from the place where one votes. Ms. Gray retorted that, while she had indeed voted in the November 2012 election in Roselle, she had cast an early vote in that election on October 26, 2012.

But, ultimately, the hearing board’s decision didn’t boil down to where Ms. Gray voted in 2012. It boiled down to whether or not the Farmers Insurance office, where she claimed to be living in order to reduce her expenses during her transition from Roselle, constituted a permanent dwelling. Ms. Gray said that she’d moved into the Farmers Insurance office in mid-October 2012, while the condominium located directly above  the office, where she now resides, was being prepared. She moved into the condo in May 2013.

According to the Report, “The only question remaining was whether the Candidate effectively established residency at her Maywood office during the seven month period between October 2012 and May 2013.”

“Evidence indicating that the Candidate did not reside in her Maywood Officer [sic] was the physical layout of the office. There was no bathtub or shower. The fact that the Candidate had a place to go — the Roselle Property. The Candidate testified that her personal furniture remained at the Roselle Property while she remained at the office.”

The Report also states that Ms. Gray’s credit card bills, bank statements and tax returns “for the relevant period were all addressed to the Roselle Property.”

Moreover, the hearing board wasn’t satisfied with Gray’s explanation that her unusual living arrangements were motivated by efforts to cut expenses. Ironically, had she explained that her unusual living arrangements were due to her intention to run for office–intentions that aren’t clearly established by the evidence presented in the Report–her case may have been bolstered.

“The Candidate’s arguments are similar to the candidate in Dillavou v. Board of Sangmon County[…], who knew he had to move to meet the court’s deadline. That was an important point in that case. It explained why the candidate in that case took the unusual step of refusing to live with his family. However, in this case, the Candidate never testified that she was deliberately living in her office to meet the 2 year deadline set forth in the Illinois Constitution. That would have at least explained such an unusual living arrangement. The explanation that the Candidate resided in her office to save money was not plausible under the facts of this case.”

Ms. Gray stated that, despite the ruling, she intends to appeal the board’s decision–a process that will only cut into the time, energy and resources she’ll need to campaign. Despite the odds, she said that she’s still resolved to press on. Ms. Gray indicated that she’s fueled by her mistrust of the challenge process and her suspicion that the hearing board officers weren’t sufficiently unbiased.

“I’m going to participate in my right to appeal the decision. A lot of people told me in the beginning that I was going up against a machine. I really don’t know that the attorneys on the hearing board were unbiased or that the hearing officer was unbiased when it came to the objections I posed. I will tell you that I’ve learned so much about this process, because I have represented myself. I didn’t have an attorney representing me. I don’t know that the hearing officer was unbiased.

“Going forward, anyone whose of sound mind and wants to run for public office, I will be more than willing to help them. This is an egregious process,” she said of the electoral challenging process, noting that the odds are stacked high against any candidate who doesn’t have the requisite legal and financial means to defend his or her candidacy.

“I’m still doing endorsement interviews,” said Ms. Gray, who believes that she still has a chance if her appeal process is successful. Asked what she would do differently if she could turn back the hands of time: “I’ll fund-raise first!” she said, still in high spirits as she assessed her past actions and her remaining options for the future.

“We have been actively campaigning, but it hasn’t been as active as it should be. I’m researching how long the appeal process will take. I haven’t gotten the official decision in writing, yet. But we’re in crunch time. We have about a month and a half to win the primary. And appealing is the only option at this point. We can’t run as a write-in. We can’t run independently, because we filed as democrats.”

Perhaps the darkest, most salient part of her candid assessment of her campaign’s status to date was the cautionary tale that, given its sensitive nature, she could only allude to.

“Next time, I’ll go with my gut feeling as far as my team members go. I had some hesitation about someone on my team in the beginning, but I decided to go against my own judgment and allow that person to work with me. Next time, I’d be more selective and go with my gut intuition as far as who I allow to be in my inner circle. Had I not allowed that person in, I wouldn’t be faced with this challenge,” Ms. Gray said, cryptically.

According to sources, Ms. Gray’s campaign had intended to submit a challenge to Rep. Welch’s candidacy, but that attempt was ultimately sabotaged by one of her own supporters. Ms. Gray wouldn’t comment further on the matter, but she did confirm that something of that nature happened.

“But you know, I have nothing to be ashamed of,” she said on a high note. “Because I went through this, am going through it, I have the wherewithal to help like-minded, like-spirited future candidates who want to make sure our communities are better and stronger. I know what to expect now, but we’re not finished battling yet. There’s something more to this.”

Reprinted from the Village Free Press