A former 29th Ward Republican committeeman who claims that she was wrongly ousted from her position by the Cook County Republican Party is now taking matters into her own hands and challenging the candidacy of Jeffrey Leef, who was handpicked by the county Republicans to run against U.S. Rep. Danny K. Davis (7th) in the Nov. 4 election.
In April, Fran Sapone was removed from her post as a West Side Republican committeeman, along with 13 other party committeemen, as a result of a recent rule devised by the party that bars individuals who voted Democrat in the last eight years from holding committeeman posts.
Sapone was elected 29th Ward committeeman in the March 15 primaries with 505 votes — a little more than half of the ward’s Republicans who showed up to the polls. Here predecessor, Louis Tenuta was mapped out of the ward in the 2012 redistricting process.
Ward committeemen run voter organizing efforts for their parties and appoint election judges. In cases where a party has no candidate in the primary, committeemen can decide who the party would put in. Typically, Sapone would’ve had a say on who would run against Davis in November’s general election, since no Republican candidates ran in the March primaries.
Before that could happen, however, Sapone said that on April 12 she and 13 other Republican committeemen received a letter noted that they weren’t eligible for the positions they held, because they voted Democrat in the last eight years. The Cook County Republicans approved that new requirement six days before the March primary election.
Stephen Boulton, the attorney for the Cook County GOP, said during an interview earlier this month that the voting requirement was added because his client felt an “alarming” number of its candidates were actually Democrats and that something drastic had to be done. He said that Sapone was trying to sabotage the party.
“[The bylaw] passed because of situations like this,” Boutlon said, referencing Sapone, who didn’t deny the claim that she voted Democrat within the last eight years and has touted her work on campaign of first-term 29th Ward Ald. Chris Taliaferro. Sapone said that she favored Taliaferro because of his opposition of Mayor Rahm Emanuel on numerous issues.
“I have a history of fighting powers that be in the Democratic Party,” Sapone said, adding that City Council elections are non-partisan and that Taliaferro’s Democratic Party affiliation wasn’t relevant in the context of a city aldermanic election.
Sapone said she also fought against the remapping of the 36th Ward, which forced then-Ald. Nicholas Sposato out of his own ward.
While Democratic ward committeemen tend to play prominent roles in ward politics, their Republican counterparts tend to get overshadowed. Out of the 50 aldermen, only one, Ald. Anthony Napoliotano (41st), is a Republican. Republican committeemen elections usually feature only one candidate, with some elections featuring no candidates at all.
But while it’s relatively unseen, the Republican Party still exists on the West Side. According to the Chicago Board of Elections, even majority African-American wards, which tend to vote overwhelmingly Democratic, have some Republican voters. In the March 15 Republican primary, 141 residents voted in the 24th Ward, 606 voted in the 28th Ward, 234 voted in the 37th ward, and 239 voted in the 29th ward.
Taking matters into her own hands
State election law allows for committeemen to choose candidates for general elections if no candidates ran in the primaries. Sapone, however, wasn’t able to make a selection before the Cook County Republican Party removed her from the post.
The party eventually handpicked Leef to run against Davis and now Leef’s candidacy is being challenged by Sapone, who said she wasn’t aware a meeting to select Leef had taken place.
“Notification is required by the Illinois election code, so I am challenging him,” Sapone said. “The objective is to force the Chicago Board of Elections commissioners to recognize me as a committeeman. If this doesn’t work, it’s time for a lawsuit.”
During a June 14 election board hearing, Boulton argued that, under current case law, the government can’t “impose” onto a political party an official that doesn’t fit that party’s bylaws.
Sapone’s attorney, Pericles Abbasi, countered that Sapone was a properly elected official and that kicking her out of office was tantamount to disenfranchising 29th Ward voters.
“Anyone could file to run [for committeeman],” Abbasi said. “If the party wants to run someone who always votes Republican, they could have. They want to take away the rights of the Republican voters.”
Sapone is still waiting to hear a ruling on her challenge from the election board.