Candidates convicted of corruption allowed to run for city council

Friday, January 12, 2007

Two former alderman convicted on corruption charges in the 1990s will be allowed to remain on the ballot for the February election.

Ambrosio Medrano and Virgil Jones were both convicted in one of the most extensive corruption investigations in Chicago history. The Chicago Board of Elections ruled Friday that both men should be allowed to run, even though hearing officers for the board said they should be banned from the ballot because of their criminal history.

Some call this a surprise. But others say this was the only this to do the way the law is currently written. Regardless, there will be two men running for city council who are very well known in their wards.

A calm cook County Board of Elections hearing is the setting for an unusual turn of events in Chicago politics. Despite the recommendation of a hearing officer, the board voted to allow Ambrosio Medrano and Vigil Jones on February's ballot.

"As you can see, I am overjoyed by the ruling, and the ruling by the hearing office was overturned, and personally I want to say that I know how people feel, when they are asking for a second chance," said Ambrosio Medrano.

"I felt like public people who had the same experience we have had, at least we have an opportunity to start over, and to serve the people," said Virgil Jones.

Both Medrano and Jones were convicted in Operation Silver Shovel in 1999. Both served time for taking bribes from a government informant. Medrano was the first alderman charged. Jones was among five others charged and convicted. When they filed nominating petitions with board of elections, their petitions were challenged, and an elections hearing officer recommended that the two be taken off the ballot due to their criminal past. But in an unusual move, the board did not take that recommendation.

The board commissioner and chairman cited contradictory legal precedent.

"I would vote not to support the hearing officer's recommendation, to reverse those decisions, and deny the objections, and certainly the ballots to the candidates," said Richard Cowen, elections board commissioner.

The challenges were brought residents of both wards. The residents allowed their attorneys to represent them.

"I was surprised, the decision from the hearing officer was very well laid out and written, and quite clear," said Chester Slaughter, attorney for 15th Ward resident.

"It's a disappointing message, obviously, in today's environment when we are faced with so many scandals," said Homero Tristan, attorney for 25th Ward residents.

State and county officers may have felony backgrounds. Courts ruling in a similar case ruled that the same should be true from municipal offices.

The attorneys for the challengers are considering an appeal. For now, Medrano and Jones will go on February's ballot. There is a challenge pending against Wallace Davis. He was also convicted on corruption charges.

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