Saturday, March 17, 2007

Ziri-ously Fundraising

Michael Patrick Ziri is on the April 17, 2007, Consolidated Election ballot for the Springfield Metropolitan Exposition and Auditorium Authority’s (SMEAA) District 1. He held a fundraiser this afternoon at Andiamo's on Sixth and Adams.

Almost all of his support and campaign contributions come from activists. Here is a partial list:

  • Scott Saunders, Democratic Precinct Committman running for SMEAA District 5
  • Julie Kluge, Democratic candidate for SMEAA District 1
  • Steve Waterworth, former congressional candidate for IL-18
  • Pam Gronemeyer, President, Downstate Democrats For Change (the same group organizing a Democrats for America training event in Springfield in September)
  • Virginia Bayless, a member of Operation Home Now
  • William Houlihan, Senator Richard Durbin's director in the Springfield office.

Mr. Ziri is one of two Democrats for three seats. There are no Republicans on the ballot due to errors that Mr. Ziri noticed two months ago. The Sangamon County Democratic Party has tried to correct the practice of Republican candidates submitting petitions that are not within the law. Where they failed, Michael Ziri succeeded.

SMEAA is the 11-member (allegedly) non-partisan board established in 1973. It includes all of Capital, Springfield and Woodside townships, and oversees the operation of the Prairie Capital Convention Center in Springfield. It is the same SMEAA that wants to get into the hotel business.

[. . .] the head of the taxing authority that operates the Prairie Capital Convention Center sent a letter (January 11, 2007,) to state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias saying SMEAA would be willing to purchase the mortgage of the President Abraham Lincoln Hotel and Conference Center (formerly known as the Renaissance Hotel).

It is in default on its state-backed loans to the tune of $28 million, and the trustee for the Illinois Insured Mortgage Pilot Program, which is run by Giannoulias' office, wants the 316-room hotel at Seventh and Adams streets operated by someone else until a new owner is found.

[. . .] selling the mortgage to SMEAA would remove it (the hotel) from being a state issue and allow our local entities to work with all involved to keep Springfield's hugely important convention and tourism business viable.

The hotel and convention center are side-by-side, and SMEAA owns the land.
Yet, no one has any idea where they will get any part of the $28.4 million loan balance:
[. . .] Ernie Slottag, said no money to buy the hotel would come from city coffers. SMEAA and the city might try to assemble a team of investors to buy the note on the hotel on behalf of the auditorium authority, Slottag said. (State Journal-Register, January 11, 2007)
Back in January 2007, Mr. Ziri felt that upholding the integrity of the law was more important than retaining the Republican status quo in Sangamon County. He subsequently filed his objections to the Republican petitions. On February 21, 2007, the Sangamon County Electoral Board removed three candidates for SMEAA from the April 17, 2007, Consolidated Election ballot.
District 1: incumbent Don Casper, retiring Springfield Ward 7 Ald. Judy Yeager and former Sangamon County Board chairman Dick Austin.

Bruce Stratton, lawyer for all four SMEAA candidates who faced objections, said he had not seen the electoral board's written opinions, but he might go to circuit court to fight the decision in the cases of Austin and Yeager.

Casper failed to indicate what office he was seeking on his petitions, while Austin and Yeager didn't have the required 50 signatures from people who live within their district, the electoral board ruled.

[. . .] The electoral board, comprised of Sangamon County Clerk Joe Aiello, State's Attorney John Schmidt and Treasurer Tom Cavanagh, on Monday had removed Sandra K. Douglas from the ballot. She had turned in fewer than 385 signatures.

Stratton argued . . . that the signatures could come from anyone within all of SMEAA's taxing district, which includes Capital, Springfield and Woodside townships. But Michael Ziri, a candidate in SMEAA District 1 who objected to petitions of Casper, Yeager and Austin, argued that the signatures must come from voters in District 1. The electoral board sided with Ziri.

Yeager and Austin had both turned in more than 50 signatures, but Ziri contended and the board agreed that when removing voters from outside District 1, their totals fell below 50.

In its written findings, the board noted that the SMEAA taxing district in 1988 was split into five districts by a consent decree arising from a federal voting-rights case. The electoral board wrote that the decree along with the state law setting up SMEAA requires that, in the board's words, the nomination petition for board members for the various sub-districts must be signed by voters registered to vote in the same sub-district as the office sought.

Stratton, who has a contract as attorney for SMEAA in addition to providing free legal service to represent the SMEAA candidates before the electoral board, said Wednesday that in Casper's case, he's not sure he agrees with the board, but thinks its decision is clearly based on what the statute says.

But in the cases of Yeager and Austin, Stratton said, he thinks the electoral board is taking different pieces of things from different places and kind of mushing it all together and saying 'this is what we think it means.' (State Journal-Register, February 22, 2007)
Ms. Yeager, in a feeble attempt to save her dignity, chose to ignore the 1988 decision and allowed her pro bono attorneys to file a formal legal appeal:
Her lawsuit says neither state law nor a federal voting rights decree concerning SMEAA spell out the residency requirement. The law states only that petition signers must come from the metropolitan area, not individual subdistricts, the lawsuit states. That district is all of Woodside, Capital and Springfield townships. (State Journal-Register, March 03, 2007)

Bottom line for her only justification in several pages of legal jargon: she was right and the Board was wrong. Judy feels that the Board has created a hodgepodge of the law. There are five SMEAA districts that everyone has treated as one at-large district. This is the way it has always been. She feels no need to change it now at the expense of her seat on the SMEAA Board.

In contrast, Mr. Ziri chose to adhere to the changes in the law and correctly appealed the Republican petitions. Ultimately, two events will occur on March 23, 2007: (1) Ms. Yeager will lose her appeal -- and a little of her dignity. (2) Mr. Ziri will successfully break up the monopolizing Republican good ol’ boys’ network for one special district in Sangamon County.

Monopolizing is an understatement. There are two attorneys losing this case. The first is none other than Bruce Stratton of Stratton, Giganti, Stone & Kopec. Their
client list includes numerous public organizations and a few non-profits. One of them is SMEAA. Another notable mention from the Stratton, et al., client list is the Springfield Park District. His son is the district director (aka, the highest paid non-elected boss in the park hierarchy) . Obviously, conflicts of interest, and Mr. Stratton continues the losing legal battle to keep the SMEAA checks rolling in. The appeals hearing is March 23, 2007. The Consolidated Election is April 17, 2007. On April 18, 2007, his firm will be short one public organization on his client list.

If anyone wonders why anyone would fight so hard for a membership on the SMEAA Board and non-mandatory monthly meetings, it is obvious. The answer lies in the State Journal-Register and the Stratton website: contracts and jobs for family, friends, and any acquaintance that appears out of the woodwork.

Once the new Democratic members begin their tenure on the SMEAA Board, we hope to fulfill the entertainment and cultural needs of the people, said Mr. Ziri. He continued, I am not running for the Board to provide jobs to friends and family or free tickets to acquaintances. I and the other Democratic candidates are running to take SMEAA towards a progressively activist future. Government of friends, family, and bosses clearly do not meet the needs of citizens.

Mr. Stratton's co-counsel in the appeals process and the second attorney in the losing Republican monopoly is Justin Reichert. He is a graduate of Illinois College in Jacksonville, Illinois. He filed the lawsuit on behalf of Ms. Yeager. He is a precinct committeeman (RE:
p. 377).

Sometimes one vote is the difference between winning an election or losing it. Other times knowing the law is the difference. Michael Patrick Ziri, candidate for SMEAA District 1, is now a sure thing thanks to the latter. An excellent reason to
donate to his campaign.

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