Laiacona’s objection denied

By Patrick Smith

Columbia teacher Joe Laiacona probably won’t be running unopposed in February’s Democratic primary because his objections to opponent State Rep. Deb Mell’s nomination papers for candidacy were overruled by the Board of Election Commissioners of the City of Chicago.

The decision was made by a unanimous vote of three election commissioners on Dec. 1 and announced a day later. The three commissioners made up an electoral board, chaired by Commissioner Langdon Neal and organized to hear and rule upon Laiacona’s objections.

Laicona said he was not surprised by the decision because an election board hearing officer had already recommended his objection be dismissed. Laiacona also said that he was not disappointed in the decision, saying, “You know, it’s life.”

“Although I felt we had an open and shut case, I didn’t know there was such a growing loophole in election law,” Laiacona added.

Laiacona’s attorney Richard Means had previously expressed confidence the objection would succeed, but he too said he was not surprised by the board’s decision. He did, however, add that he and Laiacona did not agree with it.

“There’s a whole lot of things we disagree with,” Means said.

As previously reported in The Chronicle on Nov. 16, Laiacona filed his objections to Mell’s nomination papers on Nov. 9. Those objections contended that Mell’s papers were invalid, and she was ineligible to run in the Democratic primary because she was not registered to vote at the address listed on her form.

Ken Menzel, legal counsel for the Illinois State Board of Elections, said that objections like Laiacona’s are rare because candidates do not usually make the sort of error Mell did.

Mell filed a motion to dismiss Laiacona’s objection, and Hearing Officer Barbara Goodman heard arguments from Mell’s attorney Michael Kasper and from Means on Nov. 24.

In her motion to dismiss, Mell confirmed that she was not registered to vote at the address she listed on her nomination papers. But Goodman found that “there is no express requirement … that a candidate be a registered or qualified voter.”

The electoral board agreed with Goodman’s assessment.

“It’s a legal quibble and they’re arguing that the law has an inference, but it doesn’t directly say that they have to be registered voters,” Means said. “But I read it differently.”

Means and Laiacona have until Dec. 11 to decide if they want to appeal the decision to the circuit court.

“We may proceed to the circuit court and have the circuit court tell us what the rule is,” Means said.

Even if he decides not to appeal the decision, Laiacona said that he is confident he will defeat Mell in the Democratic primary on Feb. 2.

“I think my take on the issues reflects the needs of our society, and that’s why I put out a platform,” Laiacona said. “Most candidates don’t do platforms anymore … they want to rely on personality and machines and I believe that’s the downfall of democracy.”

In his effort to make the campaign more issue-based, Laiacona said that he sent out an invitation to Mell asking her to meet him for three debates.

“If she and I sit down in front of the public and the press and talk about the issues, I think I am going to win hands down,” Laiacona said.

Mell’s office said they had not received any such invitation, and the representative declined recent requests for comment.

Laiacona has received attention recently because of this objection and because of a recent front-page profile in the Chicago Reader. That article, “A Kink in the Campaign,” focused on Laiacona’s past as a sex advice columnist in Gay Chicago Magazine and the fact he said he is a leather fetishist.

The Reader questioned whether a “leather master” could win an election, but Laiacona said that he is not concerned and added that the people who have a problem with his sex life would not have voted for him in the first place.

“I’m a politician who can be honest about my sex life, and there are a lot of politicians who aren’t honest,” Laiacona said, the author of several books on master and slave leather fetishism. “Honesty about my sex life means I will be honest as a politician.”

If he is elected, Laiacona said he is considering proposing an amendment to the state’s election law requiring that a candidate to the legislature be an active registered voter.