Challenger nearly knocked off ballot

Graceffa and Goral switching seat in County Board District 7 may be illegal, according to state elections attorney

Retired Rockford Public School District 205 teacher Barbara Hildreth wants to put her skills to use in Winnebago County Board chambers. Hildreth is challenging longtime Winnebago County Board Member Ray Graceffa (R-7) for his seat.

She’ll face Graceffa because he and fellow District 7 County Board member Angie Goral switched terms. According to Illinois State Board of Elections Attorney Steve Sturm, an “attempt to do this could well be illegal if it were to deviate from the will of the voters, who theoretically could have intended that the two board members keep the seats they ran for.”

Sturm stated, in his July 3 e-mail, state or county election code offers no provisions for switching terms. He suggested Goral and Graceffa be told to retain their seats.

Goral was appointed in February 2005 to finish out late County Board member Polly Berg’s four-year term. Instead of running for a four-year term, Graceffa will run to complete Berg’s term, and Goral is running for his four-year term.

According to Winnebago County Democratic Party Chairman Greg Tuite, an election is required when more than 28 months remain in a term when vacated.

Hildreth, an African-American Democrat, almost didn’t make it onto the ballot.

Winnebago County Election Supervisor Margie Mullins—who’s hoping to succeed incumbent Winnebago County Clerk Dave Johnson—claimed Hildreth’s election petitions were filled out improperly.

Mullins said no term was specified when Hildreth’s petitions were filed June 22. Therefore, Mullins’ office assumed Hildreth was running for a four-year unexpired term. But because of Goral’s arrangement with Graceffa, she was already slated for that seat.

Hildreth questioned Mullins’ conclusion and sought Illinois State Board of Elections input. Mullins got direction from the ISBE as well. The state agency informed both Mullins and Hildreth that because Graceffa ran unopposed in the March 2006 primary, noting a specific term wasn’t mandatory. The ISBE also noted only a two-year seat was open.

“The County Board has not been on the same page as the [Illinois] constitution,” Hildreth said.

According to Mullins, there’s no official process in relation to switching terms. Mullins said election law allows candidates to decide that among themselves.

“I just made the choice,” Graceffa said.

According to the 82-year-old Graceffa, he’s been a County Board member since 1994 and decided two more years were enough.

Graceffa came on the Board under former Winnebago County Board Chairman Kris Cohn. He said the Winnebago County Board has maintained a balanced budget during most of his three terms, while asserting the tax rate has been increased minimally during that time.

“Somebody’s been taking care of the store,” Graceffa said.

He described himself as a “check-and-balance” man, who’ll continue to keep his eye on the bottom line if he’s re-elected.

Goral said she didn’t see a problem with her “mutual agreement” with Graceffa, since she’ll finish Berg’s term in December.

But, according to Mullins, Berg was elected to a four-year term in 2004, which would end in 2008. So, Goral actually has two left to serve.

Mullins stressed that Goral and Graceffa weren’t “trying to pull the wool over the voters’ eyes.”

“I don’t think anyone is trying to do anything fraudulently,” she said.

Winnebago County Democrats left County Board members Dave Yeske (R-2), Mary Ann Aiello (R-9) and John Ekberg (R-10) unopposed. New candidate Dave Fiduccia also has no competition in his bid for a District 4 seat.

The Winnebago County Republican Central Committee was unable to slate anyone to challenge County Board members Pearl Hawks (D-6), Karen Hoffman (D-11), George Anne Duckett (D-12), Bob Hastings (D-13) and Goral. District 11 hopeful Karen Elyea faces no opposition, either, while Republican John Sweeney was slated to oppose Democrat Margie Veitch for the District 14 seat.

From the july 5-11, 2006, issue

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