A Forest Park man challenged the recently filed nominating papers of state Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch (D-7th), according to state records.
In a five-page objection filed earlier this month, Brian Kuhr claimed that Welch filed more than the maximum 1,500 signatures permitted under the Illinois Election Code and challenged the validity of most of the signatures.
At a hearing held on Dec. 15 at the Illinois State Board of Election’s office in Chicago, election officials allowed a continuance so that Welch’s petition signatures could be subject to a line item review. The next court date isn’t until Jan. 8.
Kuhr’s allegations include signatures that are duplicates or forged and that they include the names of people with missing addresses or who aren’t registered voters in the 7th District, which includes Forest Park.
He also claims that “an excessively high percentage of signatures” procured by nine circulators “are not genuine.”
If Kuhr’s objections stick and the challenged signatures are upheld, the number of valid petition signatures for Welch’s campaign would be reduced by 1,114 to 386 — or “114 below the statutory minimum of 500,” the objection claims.
Referencing a brief drafted by Anthony Bass, Kuhr’s attorney, the objection states that Welch’s nominating petitions present “substantial, clear, unmistakable, and compelling evidence that establishes a ‘pattern of fraud and false swearing’ with the ‘utter and contemptuous disregard for the mandatory provisions of the Election Code.'”
But it’s likely that Kuhr’s objection will be overruled, given the results of a summary report obtained from Welch’s campaign. The summary report notes that, among Welch’s 1,531 signatures, 1,107 of them were challenged, with 692 of them sustained and 415 overruled. Welch has 339 “signatures greater than the required minimum,” according to the report.
Bass, of Grasso Bass P.C., along with the law firm Robbins Schwartz, was hired in October by the Proviso High School District 209 Board of Education to replace the district’s longtime law firm Del Galdo Law Group in a move that was considered a major victory for the three candidates — board President Theresa Kelly, Ned Wagner and Claudia Medina — who ran as the Proviso Together Party in last April’s election.
The ticket’s successful campaign was supposed to be a rebuke to what many still perceived to be a Welch-dominated school board — several years after he’d gone on to Springfield.
According to state records, Del Galdo has donated thousands to Welch’s statehouse campaigns and it donated more than $8,000 to the Proviso Children First Party, the slate of three candidates who ran unsuccessfully last April and who many people perceived to have been backed by Welch.
Welch’s wife was one of the slate’s candidates. Welch, however, has denied that he had an overwhelming interest in that campaign.
Bass and Robbins Schwartz, however, were dismissed less than a month after they were hired when a majority of board members grew concerned about their political connections.
The dismissal vote was drawn up mostly on party lines. Kelly, Wagner and Medina voted against the dismissal.
Board members Theresa McKelvy, Brian Cross and Dan Adams voted for the action. Kevin McDermott, who voted for the dismissal but supported the Proviso Together party, was considered the swing vote.
Kuhr said in a phone interview that he first became aware of Bass after he was hired by the district. Although state campaign records show that he donated $48 to the Proviso Together ticket in March, Kuhr said his objection has nothing to do with his support of that ticket or of Welch’s challenger, former Forest Park Commissioner Chris Harris.
“I’m doing this on my own,” Kuhr said of his objection. “This is an attempt by the average citizen to ensure the integrity of the ballot and nothing more than that.”
Last month, Harris, an active supporter of Proviso Together, announced his intention to run against Welch in the Democratic primary election in March 2016. Harris, whose nominating petitions haven’t been challenged, couldn’t be reached for comment.
In a recent interview, Welch dismissed Kuhr’s objection wholesale as “frivolous” and said he’s confident that the petitions will withstand a challenge.
“I started collecting signatures of registered voters on Sept. 1, the very first day that we were able to and I knocked on doors in my own neighborhood, went to meetings; everywhere I went I took my petitions and I talked to my constituents,” Welch said. “Those petitions were reviewed and vetted thoroughly before we field them and I am very confident that they’re going to withstand a challenge.”