Ald. Roderick Sawyer will stay on ballot for Chicago mayor after Willie Wilson campaign drops challenge

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Willie Wilson’s campaign will drop its objection to Ald. Roderick Sawyer’s petitions, clearing the way for Sawyer to appear on the ballot for Chicago mayor.

The Wilson campaign, through former State Sen. Rickey Hendon, challenged Sawyer’s petitions earlier this month. But Hendon abruptly moved to withdraw the petition on Wednesday, a retreat that comes a day after a nearly three-hour hearing in which both of their lawyers argued over the alderman’s motion to dismiss Hendon’s objections to his signatures.

In an interview, Hendon said he disagreed with the decision by Wilson to drop the ballot challenge but said he’s a “team player.”

“Willie Wilson is one of those compassionate kind of people,” Hendon said.

Sawyer thanked his lawyer, Burt Odelson, and said he can now focus on campaigning.

“It’s time to get to work,” Sawyer said.

Odelson said earlier this week that Hendon’s objections “deserve an A+ for shotgun objections,” which is a term for a bad-faith challenge lobbed in hopes of knocking a candidate off the ballot. He called on Hendon to appear in person for a testimony that at times grew combative as Odelson sought to prove that Hendon could not explain the issue with many of the signatures he listed in his objections. In turn, Hendon argued he was sick for much of the review process and did have a trained team pore over the nominating petitions.

Sixth Ward Ald. Roderick Sawyer delivers candidate nomination petitions for his 2023 mayoral election Nov. 28.

Sixth Ward Ald. Roderick Sawyer delivers candidate nomination petitions for his 2023 mayoral election Nov. 28. (Armando L. Sanchez / Chicago Tribune)

Odelson pointed out there were more than 100 pages of Sawyer’s nominating petitions that had every single line challenged, most of them with multiple alleged violations. Odelson questioned how Hendon’s team could say some signatures both lacked the correct voter registration address and had a forged signature, because if they did not find a voter registration card, there is no correct signature to reference on whether the petitions had a forgery.

“There’s no good faith showing that these signatures were checked,” Odelson said during Tuesday’s hearing, adding Hendon’s strategy seemed to be that “‘Maybe we’ll get lucky by throwing spaghetti on the wall, and the board will find enough of these guesses as valid to take the person off the ballot.’”

Hendon’s attorney, Andrew Finko, argued that Sawyer simply does not have the needed signatures and that a partial records exam only turned up 63% validity in his petitions. Hendon’s process as an objector was “reasonably diligent,” Finko argued.

“(There’s) the adage, when you don’t have the law on your side, you pound on the facts,” Finko said. “If you don’t have enough facts — or no signatures in your petition — you pound on the law. When you have neither, you pound on your opponent on the table and go off on all these other tangents.”

The hearing officer had initially scheduled a decision to be rendered next Tuesday.

Hendon also dropped a challenge to activist Ja’Mal Green earlier this month. Green, in turn, dropped a challenge against Wilson.

That followed a bizarre spat where Green accused Wilson’s camp of trying to bribe his campaign to withdraw their objection to Wilson’s nominating petitions.

Green and Hendon have a history dating back to the 2019 election, when Green and Wilson were both running for mayor and Hendon, a flamboyant former state senator, challenged Green’s petitions. That sparked what became a war of words on social media, which led to some tense confrontations. Upset that Green allegedly said “yo mama!” to him four years ago, Hendon vowed to challenge Green’s signatures no matter what office he runs for, whether it’s “dogcatcher or booty kisser.”

For this cycle, Green has won a lottery to appear first on the crowded Feb. 28 ballot that also includes incumbent Mayor Lori Lightfoot, U.S. Rep. Jesús “Chuy” García, state Rep. Kambium “Kam” Buckner, former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas, Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson and Ald. Sophia King.

If no one emerges with at least 50% of the vote, a runoff between the top two will take place April 4.

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December 28, 2022 at 11:53AM

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