Accusations of Hypocrisy and Racism at Cook County GOP Trainwreck

By DOUG IBENDAHL • April 14, 2016

 

Some officials of the Cook County Republican Party went out of their way Wednesday night to further destroy an organization that wasn’t very productive to begin with.

 

The Cook County Republican Party held its County Republican Convention Wednesday night in Chicago’s Greek Town neighborhood. County parties in the other 101 Illinois counties had their conventions going on at the same time.

 

Something that is usually a quick and uneventful affair turned into a trainwreck in Cook County because the day before 13 committeemen received letters essentially saying they were “fired” as committeemen and further that they weren’t eligible to participate in the County Convention.

 

Keep in mind, in all of Cook County there are only 80 elected GOP committeeman to begin with. Cook doesn’t elect precinct committeemen like every other county does. Instead we have 50 GOP Chicago ward committeemen and 30 GOP township committeemen.

 

So only 80 elected committeemen for a county which by itself typically accounts for at least a quarter of all Republican votes in a statewide General Election. I know some find it hard to believe but Cook has more Republicans than any other Illinois county – by far. That’s owing simply to its much higher population. Even if Republicans comprise only about a third of the county, that’s still a lot of Republicans.

 

The “you’re fired” letters were signed by Aaron Del Mar, who until Wednesday night was the Chairman of the Cook County Republican Party, and Chris Cleveland, who is apparently still the Chairman of the Chicago Republican Party. For now at least.

 

For the record, the Chicago GOP Chairman title is an artificial creation. There is no mention or recognition of it in Illinois law. It was made up out of whole cloth years ago and it’s a throw-back to the days before technology made it so easy to communicate with people across distances. I’m sure the unnecessary subset is also rooted in some historical rivalry between the City and the suburbs.

 

In any case, the “authority” Del Mar and Cleveland cited in firing the 13 committeemen was a new county party by-law provision adopted just last month which says:

 

“A vacancy shall exist in the office of Republican committeemen in any ward or township in which an elected or appointed committeeman votes, or has voted, in the primary for another political party in the previous eight years.”

 

According to Del Mar and Cleveland, the provision was adopted six days before the March 15 election – in other words long after the 13 persons at issue filed their candidacy petitions and were certified for the ballot.

 

It would appear the eight year cut-off is just an arbitrary number they picked. Good news for Bruce Rauner though. He could run for Chicago ward committeeman because the Democratic ballot he pulled in 2006 would put him in the safe zone.

 

But let’s get real. That by-law provision is a joke. It has zero legal enforceability. As any first year law student knows, no organization’s internal by-law provision can override statutory law that’s clearly on point.

 

It’s my understanding that the 13 committeemen at issue are all Chicago ward committeemen. That means they were all lawfully elected by Republican voters at the March 15 election.

 

Illinois law doesn’t allow what Del Mar and Cleveland tried to do. Death, moving out of the jurisdiction, and conviction of certain crimes are the primary ways a vacancy is created in an elective office in Illinois. Being suspected of “not being Republican enough” or “being too cozy with Democrats” is not a lawful justification for being removed as a duly elected party official.

 

If any of the 13 committeemen are in fact Democrat “infiltrators” then the time to have fought that battle was during the recent election. A “real” Republican should have been recruited in those wards and a serious effort should have been made to educate Republican voters about the players. If anyone tried that, apparently they did a terrible job.

 

In any case, that ship has sailed. The fact is that in the Chicago wards at issue, Republican primary voters elected these people fair-and-square in a real election on March 15. Two party bosses who live outside of those wards can’t come along now and overrule the choice Republican voters made at the ballot box last month.

 

I don’t personally know most of the 13 committeemen at issue. It’s quite possible one or more is in fact truly a Democrat and only ran for a Republican Party office for less than pure reasons.

 

But as a legal matter, again, it doesn’t matter. Our system allows the opportunity for “real” Republican candidates to make their case and for frauds to be exposed during the campaign season. But we had an election on March 15 and folks who voted Republican on March 15 chose these 13 people. It’s done.

 

Of the 13, I can only speak specifically about two. Adrian Wright was elected last month as the GOP Committeeman in Chicago’s 3rd Ward, and Philanise White was elected as the 7th Ward GOP Committeeman. A mutual friend reached-out on Wednesday shortly before the convention and asked if I could help.

 

I got to know Adrian and Philanise Wednesday night. Both are very nice African-American ladies and both were big backers of Ben Carson in the presidential primary. The 3rd and 7th wards they represent are on the South Side and both wards are predominantly African-American. Both ladies were understandably upset at what was going on as were a lot of other people at the convention.

 

Here’s just one incredible thing. Both Adrian and Philanise told me that they were actually ward committeeman BEFORE being elected last month. Both said Aaron Del Mar appointed them to fill vacancies in the wards last year. In other words, Del Mar had the chance to vet both, found them great apparently, and exercising authority exclusively vested in him as the then-County Chairmen, appointed each to the party position.

 

But now this year – after both were elected in a real election – Del Mar tries to “fire” them.

 

Here’s another unbelievable fact. Del Mar doesn’t deny he was a Hillary Clinton supporter and pulled a Democrat ballot in 2008. And in fact while Del Mar didn’t run for re-election as Cook County Chairman Wednesday night, he hasn’t resigned as Palatine Township GOP Committeeman – even though applying his own litmus test he should have fired himself by now.

 

In other words, Aaron Del Mar is not only a clueless, arrogant buffoon – he’s also an enormous hypocrite.

 

Another problem I have with what Del Mar and Cleveland attempted is that I’ve never heard either of them saying a peep when any of the old white guys in the Illinois GOP help Democrats. I mean we’ve had people even on the Illinois Republican Party’s State Central Committee who have contributed money to Democrats, and at least one who actively campaigned for a liberal Democrat pal at the expense of a good Republican candidate. (Also see here.) Apparently that’s all fine, judging by the silence.

 

So when you all of a sudden single out mostly black people and accuse them of not being truly Republicans – you shouldn’t be surprised when black folks call you racist.

 

The good news is the unlawful attempt to disenfranchise failed miserably. There was so much push-back Wednesday night that Cleveland eventually announced that the “City Convention” was cancelled. That’s of course mostly meaningless anyway because of the artificial subset status.

 

The county convention did have to go forward by law, and it did. And despite an earlier announcement that the voting for the new chairman would be in closed session, no one was required to leave the room. Also, all of the committeemen who received the termination letter ended-up being allowed to participate and vote. So that was also a win.

 

No surprises in that vote. Palos Township Committeeman Sean Morrison won handily over one challenger to become the new Cook County GOP Chairman.

 

I congratulate Mr. Morrison and I wish him well. But I just don’t see the Cook County Republican Party progressing past this kind of petty internal drama until there is systemic change. This after all was hardly the first time GOP officials have wasted so much time and effort fighting over local party titles which too few ever do anything productive with once they get them. This is a reality that’s not confined to Cook County.

 

Restoring direct elections for the 18 members of Illinois Republican Party’s Central Committee is key. The Illinois GOP still clings to a failed, closed system where the top State Party officials are not accountable to rank-and-file Republicans.

 

Even the State Central Committeemen who aren’t compromised by their own connections to Democrats don’t lift a finger to help educate Republican voters about Democrats running for lower party office. All they care about is remaining on the State Central Committee and in many cases they only need the support of a few lower level party officials to do that under our current system. Most frankly don’t care who those few people are.

 

If GOP officials truly care about cleansing the ranks of fraudulent Republicans then the least they can do is give Republicans the respect of a vote. Don’t ask us to care about your petty squabbles over relatively insignificant small party offices if you refuse to let us have a say in picking the top leaders.

 

To his credit, four years ago Sean Morrison penned an excellent editorial, calling on delegates to the last Illinois Republican State Convention to pass a resolution restoring direct elections for the members of the Illinois Republican Party’s State Central Committee.

 

That effort unfortunately failed last time as a result of a lot of corrupt rigging, but I’ll be pushing the same resolution again for next month’s State Convention in Peoria. I’m assuming Mr. Morrison still “gets it” and will renew his demonstrated support for real elections and accountability.

 

We’ll soon find out.

 

Doug Ibendahl is a Chicago Attorney and a former General Counsel of the Illinois Republican Party.

 

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