CHICAGO (CBS) — A hearing examiner heard two hours of arguments Wednesday from attorneys who argued whether former Chicago Streets and Sanitation Commissioner Al Sanchez should be allowed to run for Cook County Board commissioner.
The hearing officer said he would make his recommendation by Tuesday to the three-member County Officers Electoral Board, which will decide the issue.
Opponents want him tossed off the ballot in part, the argument goes, because he can’t run for office while on probation for a federal conviction.
“For some reason they think I can’t run in a contested primary because of my conviction,” Sanchez said in a recent interview. “I think that people know that when I was employed by the city that I did a good job and cared about people and we did good things.”
A pending challenge says that the fact he’s still serving his sentence therefore means his signature authorizing his petitions as a registered voter is invalid.
Sanchez did not attend his hearing Wednesday, but said he thought he had a “good argument,” for staying on the ballot. Sanchez said he believes his case may even “set precedent” for others who were convicted of felonies but want to get back on the ballot.
“I think I should not be denied access to the ballot and let the people decide if I should represent them or not,” Sanchez said. “To me that’s how democracy runs.”
Sanchez has said he got a “raw deal” in his federal case. But other County Board members — including the influential Larry Suffredin — said his past conduct should not be tolerated on the county board, particularly when he wants to succeed William Beavers in the 4th District. Beavers was convicted of a federal tax charge.
Former Ald. Ike Carothers (29th), who was also convicted in a federal case, also is running for the Cook County Board, but he does not face a petition challenge.
Sanchez’s chances of staying on the ballot remain unclear. In the past, the state law has been interpreted to rule out felons for running in a municipal contest, including mayor or village board.
Last October, a Cook County judge ousted Thornton High School District 205 board president Kenneth Williams after he was found ineligible to hold the office following a complaint to the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office that he was a felon.
Williams, 49, was convicted of aiding and abetting forgery in Indiana in 1985. His conviction was for an “infamous crime” that disqualified him from serving on the board under the state’s school and election codes, Judge Rita Novak ruled.
Whatever decision the panel reaches is likely to be challenged in court.