Legal matters in 50th Ward ongoing after run-off

By Darryl Holliday

The heated 50th Ward race between Alderman Bernard Stone and challenger Debra Silverstein has become more contentious as election officials continue to look into funds related to Stone’s campaign.

A complaint was filed with the Illinois State Board of Elections alleging that a local group, Concerned Citizens of the 50th Ward, failed to file disclosure reports detailing money it received. The group paid for anti-Silverstein campaign mailings and so-called robocalls to voters.

“There’s an issue of whether the Concerned Citizens of the 50th Ward is an independent educational group or simply a campaign appendage,” said James Nally, a lawyer representing Silverstein.

Nally questioned whether all contributions to the group have been reported.

“If you look at the amount of activity this group had, it would appear they spent in excess of $12,000, yet that’s all they’ve reported up to now,” he said. “The mail-houses don’t work for free.”

Contradictory A-1 reports, detailing contributions of at least $1,000 made since Jan. 1, were filed by the organization, Nally said. One of the reports originally identified three individuals as providing in-kind contributions for the mailings. Another A-1 was later reported and said the money, $12,000, had come from Alderman Bernard Stone’s campaign, which he later admitted to funding but said was unintentional.

“When it was formed, the organization said they were not supporting or opposing any candidates,” Silverstein said. “Then they came out with anti-Debra Silverstein, pro-Berny Stone mailings—many of them.”

This isn’t the first clash between Silverstein, wife of Illinois Sen. Ira Silverstein, and the 83-year-old Stone. Sen. Silverstein defeated Stone in his 2008 bid for the 50th Ward Democratic Committeeman seat and Stone recently called Ms. Silverstein, a certified public accountant, a “housewife” in a Sun-Times article.

Stone also questioned some of Silverstein’s contributions because various local unions, including Unite Here Local 1, SEIU Illinois and the Chicago Teachers Union, have contributed thousands of dollars to her campaign since Jan. 1.

“She’s a captive of the union,” Stone said. “And of course the unions man most of the polling places on election day.”

During the general municipal elections, Silverstein was one of the few candidates to be endorsed by Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel, who is expected to continue his support for her during the run-off.

Stone, however, said he has the support of two of the original three “change” candidates who didn’t make the runoff, Ahmed Khan and Michael Moses.

“Throughout the campaign we had various issues and agendas that we had presented,” Khan said. “After the election, Alderman Stone was the candidate willing to sit down with me and see what those ideas are.”

A vote for Stone is a vote for stability, said Khan, who also noted with the budgetary pressures facing City Council, he doesn’t think Silverstein has the knowledge or experience needed to face the challenges ahead.

“We don’t have time right now for a learning process,” he said.

Stone is campaigning for his 11th term in office. Initially elected in 1973, Stone notes his elimination of a food desert on the ward’s east end and an increase in construction on Devon Avenue as some of his accomplishments.

Increased action on needed city services for residents, major economic development and the promotion of an “international marketplace” are part of Silverstein’s platform she hopes will sway enough voters to elect her when the April 5 run-off comes. She said these are all points Stone has fallen short on.

Having won 33 percent of the votes in the Feb. 22 election, Silverstein notes a majority—63 percent—of those who cast ballots against Stone and says that’s evidence the neighborhood is ready for change.

Stone, who won 37 percent of the vote, said he’s confident he will be able to win an 11th term.

However, the question of Stone’s contribution to the Concerned Citizens of the 50th Ward lingers. A hearing was held on March 3 and a public hearing on March 30, where evidence was presented by Silverstein’s lawyers regarding the nondisclosure of funds by the group.

Silverstein’s lawyers anticipate a decision by the Illinois State board of elections regarding the case in the coming months.