March 30, 2022

As vice president, Joe Biden said in 2019 that "Corn Pop" was a "bad dude" who "ran a bunch of bad boys" and that he confronted the gang leader with a chain as a lifeguard at a pool in Delaware in the 1960s.

But President Biden is definitely not "Corn Pop" and definitely not a "bad dude."

And Chicago Fraternal Order of Police president (FOP) John Catanzara is probably not a "bad dude" either, even if he thinks he is.

Catanzara was elected FOP Lodge 7 president in May of 2020, ousting Kevin Graham. Prior to his win he had a reputation as a "blowhard" and a Trump enthusiast unlike the low-keyed Graham. And he's been a thorn in the side of Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot since she was elected.

But Catanzara, with CPD detective and state Senate candidate Erin Jones in tow, did go to Alderman Nick Sposato's (38th) office on March 8 to demand that Sposato and fellow Northwest Side aldermen Anthony Napolitano (41st) and Jim Gardiner (45th), who were also present, endorse Jones in her June 28 primary race against incumbent senator Rob Martwick in the Illinois 10th Senate District.

The session became rather "heated" as was Napolitano's description. Each alderman - each of whom is a CFD firefighter on-leave - refused to endorse Jones.

And, according to Sposato, Catanzara stormed out of the office after promising "consequences" for them in 2023, when they seek re-election.

And what are those consequences?

Is the police union going to field and fund candidates against three first-responders?

When I asked Catanzara's office about what transpired on March 8, they e-mailed me that he is "not giving a statement."

Gardiner was similarly reticent. He said "no comment" on the record but added that he learned to worry less about what other people do or say and to focus on what he does and says. He's got that right.

He added that he is "confident" that his texting flap "has receded" and that "people are happy with what I'm doing."

Even though he is the ward Democratic committeeperson, and the 45th Ward is a quarter of Martwick's district, Gardiner said he intends to make no endorsement in the Martwick-Jones contest.

Napolitano was slightly less reticent: "We must stand up for first-responders," noting that he backed them in the past, including firefighter Michelle Darbro (D) against Brad Stephens (R) for state rep in 2020, as well as Danny O'Toole, Ammie Kessem and John Garrido. That won't include Jones.

"But I will not endorse Martwick," Napolitano said. What happened March 8 "should stay behind closed doors," he continued.

Sposato is never reticent and usually always blunt: "(Catanzara) is a loose cannon," he said, noting that Catanzara verbally attacked him for supporting the 2021 city budget, which set CPD manpower at 11,800 and didn't fund the closing of 650 vacancies.

"Nobody wants the (police) job," Sposato said. "I am 100 percent behind Martwick."

"He (Catanzara) asked us to support her (Jones), said she would be good for (firefighters union) Local 2, and criticized Martwick for allowing HB-3653 to pass in Jan. 2021," Sposato said.

That bill in its original version, (1) eliminated qualified immunity for CPD officers, making them personally liable for on-duty acts later found to be "misconduct," and (2) restricted collective bargaining to only wage issues, not to other benefits or working condition matters.

Martwick got those stipulations stripped from the bill in the Senate, and a trailer bill later in 2021 which Martwick backed, made it almost impossible to prove felony misconduct for the filing of a false police report. It now required proof of "specific intent" to "subvert justice."

"He (Catanzara) sought to make us Public Enemy Number One. He told us 'not to go off-grid,' and threatened 'consequences' if we did not obey," said Sposato.

A check of D-2s showed Sposato with campaign cash-on-hand of $96,314 as of Dec. 31, Napolitano $49,105 and Gardiner $141,389. Be certain of this: If FOP comes in against their guys, Local 2 and allied unions will respond with big bucks. FOP should spend their resources to defeat Lori Lightfoot and her alderperson allies, not the three aldermen who have butted heads with the mayor on many occasions.

But all of this may be moot.

Jones, despite the backing of the FOP, may be knocked off the ballot for allegedly engaging in a "pattern of fraud" in her collection of petition signatures, based on a challenge to her nominating petitions.

Martwick supporter and former Alderman John Arena aide, Ed Bannon, has filed an objection petition alleging that Jones signed petitions as a circulator that she in fact did not circulate.

Whether true or not, the facts are that Jones filed petitions with 1,606 signatures, well above the 650 minimum.

According to Martwick, 856 of those were stricken during a preliminary records exam due to being unregistered/out-of-district/not-in-own-proper-person, knocking Jones down to 750. Jones signed 55 sheets as "circulator," with 10 spaces per sheet. According to Martwick, she allegedly procured about 520 signatures.

Because of COVID-19, the legislature in 2021 moved the normal March primary to June 28 for 2022. The normal 90-day circulatory period was foreshortened to Jan. 13-March 7. Jones didn't launch her campaign until early February. According to a source familiar with her campaign, she spent her off-duty time in front of Happy Foods in Edison Park, so the signatures were scattered.

But on several sheets, said Martwick, the signers were sequential, meaning on the same street and meaning door-to-door solicitation.

Martwick sent workers with Jones' picture to investigate, and many signers attested that it was an older White man, not Jones, who appeared at their door. They supposedly got affidavits.

The electoral board met March 28 to begin the evidentiary process, which will take several weeks.

Martwick intends to bring as many as possible of those 9-sheeter signers, as well as the purported circulator (which he has identified and is not a registered voter) to testify. A circulator need not be a registered voter, only a U.S. citizen. So if the petition challenge is upheld, why didn't he, not Jones, sign his own sheets?

Under established case law, dating back to the 1988 Canter case, if a circulator can be proven to make a false attestation on a number of sheets, then that "pattern of fraud" invalidates all the circulator's sheets. Jones is up by 100 as of now. If all of her 55 sheets, which contain at least 300 valid signatures, are stricken, she's off the ballot.

Jones told Nadig Newspapers that she spent about 40 hours a week collecting signatures and that in some instances she was part of a team that went out gathering signatures.

She said that the claims in the challenge are not only false but show that Martwick is scared, given that he is using a team of "Madigan" attorneys to try to kick her off the ballot.

Jones adds that she received numerous messages from residents who say that Martwick's campaign workers tried to bully them into signing affidavits that she wasn't the petition circulator. And she said she now hears reports Martwick will go after her Chicago detective job if the challenge is upheld, with a complaint being filed with the police oversight agency - similar to what Arena did to numerous police and firefighters over the "5150" housing controversy in Jefferson Park.

All this will unfold, or perhaps unravel, at the election board hearings throughout April. She will be subpoenaed to testify under oath, as will Martwick, an attorney, who scoffs at a possible Jones' defense that she was within an "eyeball" of another team member while getting a signature. He noted the 2014 case of retired cop Joe Bembynista who filed petitions to oppose Martwick, then a state representative. Martwick filed a similar "pattern of fraud" objection to his petitions, most of which had him as circulator. He employed the classic I-was-sitting-in-my-car-and-watching defense. He got knocked off the ballot.

There is also an objection pending against Martwick filed by CPD lieutenant John Garrido, alleging another "pattern of fraud. Martwick had 2,000 signatures, to which 75 percent were objected on factual grounds. That's called a "shotgun." But disqualifying sporadic signatures on various pages with various circulators is not a pattern of fraud. Jones's attorney is Frank Avila.
Any decision can be appealed to the Circuit Court, and then directly to the state Supreme Court. This process essentially freezes the candidate's fund-raising and organizing, and bloats legal fees. Martwick's objection/defense is being handled by and paid for Senate President Don Harmon's campaign committee.

Outlook: Jones is hanging by a thread. She better start planning her 2024 campaign.

(Columnist Stewart is a retired attorney whose practice included election law.)