Ward Room
Covering Chicago's nine political influencers

Won't Challenging Cohen and Claypool's Petitions Just Make Them More Attractive Candidates?

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Independent Assessor candidate Forrest Claypool wheeled his petitions out this morning and spoke briefly to reports about the culture of insiders plaguing Illinois politics.

How far will -- and should -- the Democrats go to keep Forrest Claypool and Scott Lee Cohen off the ballot?

Claypool and Cohen both seem overconfident that they’ve collected enough signatures to run for assessor and governor, respectively. Claypool is holding two press availabilities today. In the morning, he’s inviting reporters to watch him remove his petitions from a North Side bank vault. In the afternoon, he’ll be filing 90,000 signatures at the County Clerk’s office.

Scott Lee Cohen held a press conference Sunday to show off 133,000 signatures collected by his crack team of street people. They were loaded onto a truck headed for the State Board of Elections in Springfield.

But last week, election lawyer Burt Odelson told NBC Chicago that Cohen may not even be legally allowed to run for Governor. Odelson is part of Democratic team that will start poring over Cohen’s petitions at 5 p.m. tonight.

Meanwhile, Gov. Quinn's made it clear that he's unafraid of the challenge, but that his lawyers will examine every dotted "i" and crossed "t" on the names Cohen turns in.

“If you can get the signatures - and it’s a healthy number - you can do whatever you want,” Quinn said. “The people decide.”

No one’s going to fault him for that, especially since Cohen was recruiting circulators out of one of his pawn shops. Quinn will be doing Illinois a public service by challenging his petitions.

Claypool is a different story. He’s an experienced, legitimate politician who currently sits on the Cook County Board, and he’s presenting himself as the wholesome alternative to that overstuffed Machine hack, Joe Berrios. While Cohen has been whinging about the 25,000 signature requirement, Claypool has complained about expected challenges from regular Democrats.

“They’re telling voters that there’s legal barriers,” said Claypool. “It’s old-fashioned thug tactics, and we've seen this before, and we’re not going to be intimidated."

Expect Claypool to use the ballot-challenge issue to reinforce Berrios’s image as a political boss who’s afraid of democracy and competition. 

“The Berrios campaign is actually at a kind of disadvantage--even following the letter of the law, by challenging signatures, they may look petty or, worse, fearful of a campaign against Claypool, which will only add to his esteem among independent voters (it probably won't help that Joe Berrios is the chair of the county party),” writes Ramsin Canon on Gapers Block. “While we should probably expect Berrios’ campaign to be aggressive, the public attention on the process could give Claypool a significant boost that may not be worth the electoral repercussions should he survive the challenge.”
 
Therein lies the calculation for Joe Berrios. If he knocks Claypool off the ballot, he wins. But if he mounts an aggressive petition challenge that fails to eliminate Claypool, he’ll give his opponent an issue that may cost the entire ticket votes. Challenging petitions is in Berrios’s DNA, but he may be better off leaving Claypool alone. As the saying goes, “If you strike at a king, you must kill him.”

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