One Removed, One Withdrew, One Yet Undetermined in Park Forest Mayoral Challenges

Village of Park Forest Municipal Officers Electoral Board
The Village of Park Forest Municipal Officers Electoral Board, (L to R), Second Senior Trustee Robert McCray, Attorney for the Electoral Board Ross D. Secler, Mayor John Ostenburg, and Village Clerk Sheila McGann. (Photo: Gary Kopycinski)

Park Forest, IL-(ENEWSPF)- One mayoral candidate was removed from the ballot, one had withdrawn from the election prior to the hearing, and a third chose to have her case continued to next Thursday. The Village of Park Forest Municipal Officers Electoral Board met on January 2, 2019, beginning at 9:30 a.m. The objectors, Jonathan H. Newman, and Christine Dupee, filed objections to the nomination papers of Emma J. Cox, Sean P. Hightower, and Renee Hawthorne.

The first case heard by the board was Jonathan H. Newman vs. Emma Cox. Ms. Cox was not present for the hearing. Mayor John Ostenburg announced that Ms. Cox had filed to withdraw her candidacy on December 26, 2018. After the formalities of calling the case, Mr. Newman agreed that the case against Ms. Cox be declared moot. The Electoral Board voted to declare the case moot.

Jonathan H. Newman, Scott Erdman
Objector Jonathan H. Newman (left) with his attorney Scott Erdman. (Photo: Gary Kopycinski)

Mr. Newman was represented by Attorney Scott Erdman. Mr. Erdman. Mr. Erdman has been licensed for 13 years and runs his own general practice law firm in Chicago. He declined to comment to the press. This was not Mr. Erdman’s first venture into Electoral Board hearings. eNews Park Forest found two other cases where Mr. Erdman represented objectors. One of those cases was in Algonquin Township in 2016, the other in Evanston in 2017.

In the second case of Jonathan H. Newman vs. Sean P. Hightower, Mr. Hightower represented himself. Mayor Ostenburg offered the opportunity to continue his case to the next week to give Mr. Hightower the chance to further prepare responses or hire counsel. Mr. Hightower chose to proceed.

During this hearing, Mr. Erdman said that Mr. Hightower’s petitions lacked a proper address at the top, “Here we have a complete lack of house number, street address, village or city, and merely provided a ZIP Code.” Mr. Erdman said that the ZIP Code provided, 60466, “can be applied to both Park Forest and University Park.”

The ZIP Code 60466 does serve some areas of University Park.

Sean P. Hightower
Mr. Sean P. Hightower argues his case. (Photo: Gary Kopycinski)

For his part, Mr. Hightower cited a case from the Chicago Board of Elections where a candidate’s nomination papers were challenged because the candidate did not include the city of residence at the top of the petition pages. The candidate in that case included his street address and the ZIP Code 60653. The candidate was permitted to remain on the ballot in that case, Mr. Hightower said.

Mr. Erdman countered that the ZIP Code 60653 is entirely within the City of Chicago, “The fact that the candidate put a partial address in there, not just a ZIP Code, but a partial address in there, 4318 South Berkeley, 60653,” was to “inform the voter of where he lived, and that he lived within the jurisdiction. Here we don’t have that. Here we have a ZIP Code.”

Mayor Ostenburg asked the Attorney for the Electoral Board, Ross D. Secler, for clarification as to what takes precedence, a court case or a local electoral board. Mr. Secler said that the Illinois Supreme Court takes precedence, then the Illinois Appellate Court, “then any circuit court is under that,” Mr. Secler said. “This body, an electoral board, or in the case of the Chicago electoral board, is an administrative body, which is below the circuit courts.” Neither the circuit courts, the appellate courts, nor the Illinois Supreme Court are bound in any way by the decisions of any administrative body.

“This board can look to other administrative boards, the other electoral boards, for guidance for how to interpret something, but is in no way bound by those decisions,” Mr. Secler continued. “Whereas this board is bound by circuit court, appellate court, and Supreme Court” decisions.

Mayor Ostenburg then asked Mr. Hightower “Do you desire the board to vote on this today, or would you like to further develop your argument and come next Thursday as we earlier stated?”

Mr. Hightower said, “I’m all in at this point. You make your decision today.”

The Electoral Board voted that the petitions for Mr. Hightower “were invalid by virtue of the fact that the information required for the address of the candidate is deficient,” Mayor Ostenburg said.

In the cases challenging Renee Hawthorne, Ms. Hawthorne chose a continuance until next Thursday during which time she plans to hire an attorney and prepare further responses to the objectors’ challenges.

The Electoral Board will reconvene on Thursday, January 10, 2019, at 9:30 a.m. After consulting with the attorney for the Electoral Board, Mayor Ostenburg said that the cases regarding Ms. Hawthorne must be concluded by the end of January.

Video of the entire hearing:

The members of the Electoral Board are Mayor John A. Ostenburg, Chairman; Village Clerk Sheila McGann; and Second Senior Trustee Robert McCray. Senior Trustee Mae Brandon is running for office in the April 2, 2019, Consolidate Election and so will not serve on the Electoral Board. The Attorney for the Electoral Board is Ross D. Secler of Odelson & Sterk, the firm that represents the Village of Park Forest.

By state statute [10 ILCS 5/10-9], the Municipal Officers Electoral Board is composed of the Mayor or president (chairman), the municipal clerk and the councilman, alderman or trustee who has served the greatest number of years as a member of the council or board.

  • Mayor John Ostenburg consults with Attorney for the Electoral Board Ross D. Secler.
  • Robert McCray
    Second Senior Trustee Robert McCray.
  • Deputy Police Chief Paul Winfrey
    Deputy Police Chief Paul Winfrey
  • Renee Hawthorne
    Renee Hawthorne
  • Sean P. Hightower
    Sean P. Hightower
  • Attorney for the Electoral Board Ross D. Secler
    Attorney for the Electoral Board Ross D. Secler
  • Mayor John Ostenburg
    Mayor John Ostenburg
  • Deputy Village Clerk Angela Thurston and Village Manager Tom Mick
    Deputy Village Clerk Angela Thurston and Village Manager Tom Mick
  • Attorney for the Electoral Board Ross D. Secler
    Attorney for the Electoral Board Ross D. Secler
  • Shelia McGann
    Village Clerk Shelia McGann
  • Christine Dupee
    Objector Christine Dupee. (Photo: Gary Kopycinski)