A receipt for nominating petitions is filled out for a candidate for an Elgin office in 2012. | Michael Smart/Sun-Times Media
Under the gun in petition challenges
A couple of months after Julieus Hooks signed a political party’s nominating petitions, a man with a gun walked up to Hooks as he left his home in Oak Park.
The man said he was a private investigator. He told Hooks the petition that he had signed was fraudulent and asked him to sign something. Hooks hastily agreed to sign the paper.
“I did not have time to fully review this document because the man with the gun instructed me to sign it, and I was afraid of him and what he may do to me if I refused,” Hooks says.
This isn’t something out of a V.I. Warshawski novel. It’s part of the behind-the-scenes legal maneuvering that Democrats and Republicans alike are engaging in to help boost the chances for their candidates for governor in November.
Expensive TV ad buys might help determine the race’s outcome, but supporters of Gov. Pat Quinn and Republican challenger Bruce Rauner also are quietly working to ensure that no third-party candidate has the chance to tilt the outcome in a tight election.
A Green Party candidate likely would take votes mostly from the incumbent, so Democratic Cook County Recorder of Deeds Karen Yarbrough challenged the validity of the Greens’ signature petitions. A hearing officer for the state election board has found that the Greens failed to collect the 25,000 nominating signatures required.
Quinn’s proxies also are winning another shadow battle – by helping the Libertarian Party’s candidates stay in contention. Republicans are trying to knock the entire Libertarian slate for statewide offices off the ballot, reasoning that they could undercut Rauner.
A state hearing officer recommended last week that the Libertarians be allowed to run because they got enough valid signatures. The full board — which rarely overrules its hearing officers — is scheduled to take up the matter Friday.
This is the case where Hooks and his bizarre story of a man with a gun come in.
Hooks had signed a petition for the Libertarians in May. He recanted his story in the affidavit that the man with the gun got him to sign. But then Hooks swore a second affidavit saying he did not mean what he said in the affidavit for the armed man.
According to the most recent version of his story, Hooks said, “On or about July 20, 2014, I was exiting my house when a tall Caucasian man and a woman approached and startled me. The man had a gun, which was visible. They told me that the woman who had circulated the petition sheet that I had signed had violated the law because she had obtained too many signatures and committed fraud. I was then given a piece of paper and told to sign.”
Sarah Dart, who was paid to circulate petitions for the Libertarians and obtained Hooks’ signature, told me a similar story. Dart says a private investigator named Carlos Rodriguez contacted her, asking about a missing girl who knew someone she supposedly knew.
She believes the story about the missing girl was a ruse. When she met with Rodriguez, Dart says he confronted her with a stack of petitions and asked her to admit that the signatures for the Libertarians were obtained fraudulently. She refused, and the state’s hearing officer later found that her signatures were legitimately gathered.
Dart says Rodriguez displayed a holstered gun when he met her. He gave her a business card showing he works for Morrison Security in Alsip. The company’s owner is the Palos Township Republican leader, Sean Morrison.
Morrison did not return repeated calls, and Rauner’s spokesman said to ask the state Republican Party about anything having to do with the petition challenge.
A party spokesman confirmed that lawyer John Fogarty hired Morrison Security to help with the case against the Libertarians’ petitions.
“Their private investigators are licensed to carry firearms and often do so in areas they consider dangerous,” Republican spokesman Andrew Welhouse said.
In an interview this week, Hooks said the Republicans’ methods for trying to undermine rival petitions “had me nervous.”
“I didn’t quite know what was going on,” Hooks says. “Next time somebody asks me, I’m not signing nothing. I don’t care what the petitions are for.”