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Playing Dirty




Dear Editor:

I am writing about the IVI-IPO article that was in your November 7, 1997, issue ["Fighting Over Scraps"] and about Lois Dobry's letter that was in the November 28 issue. It shocked me to see my old friend Lois denying that anti-Semitism is used in campaigns in her chapter of IVI-IPO, the near south. These tricks have been used a lot over there and most activists who have worked in campaigns in those wards have seen it. It has been written about many times in the Hyde Park Herald, so the voters know about what goes on over there, too.

I was a member of IVI-IPO from the early 1980s until recently when I decided that I had had all I could take of the shenanigans in that chapter and in other parts of IVI-IPO. I was not going to put up with it anymore. I have been a community activist for 44 years. It would be great if IVI-IPO could go back to what it was and be the independent organization that Illinois needs right now. But until that time I can and will do my politics someplace else.

One of the things that made me decide to leave was what went on in the Fifth Ward in 1995. Fourth Ward alderman Toni Preckwinkle and the near south chapter of IVI-IPO, of which Lois Dobry is the political action chair, were supporting Janet Oliver-Hill for alderman of the Fifth. Oliver-Hill and her family had been pretty close to Daley for a long time, so I wasn't supporting her. I wanted to work for an independent, so I got involved with Barbara Holt's campaign. She's a teacher and was endorsed by former Fifth Ward aldermen Leon Despres and Larry Bloom, who was then about to leave office.

On March 22, less than two weeks before the runoff election, Holt and Oliver-Hill were on a radio talk show together on WVON. I was at the station when a call came in from a guy I knew who was on Oliver-Hill's field staff. He said that he was working for Oliver-Hill and that Holt's campaign was being run by a Jewish overseer who hired black mercenaries. I was looking right at Oliver-Hill and she just sat there. She didn't say a word to try to correct his statements or reassure Holt or voters who were listening and she didn't say anything during the next ten days before the election. Steve Neal wrote about it in the Sun-Times on March 29 and the Hyde Park Herald had a front-page story about it on the same day. Still, Oliver-Hill had nothing to say. Lois Dobry and her husband Alan, who were the chair and treasurer of Oliver-Hill's campaign, had nothing to say about it either. If they didn't agree with it, they should have spoken up!

On April 1, Holt's campaign went door-to-door with a piece called "Barbara Holt: UNBOSSED AND UNBOUGHT--Will the Real Independent Please Stand Up?" It talked about Barbara's independence and about Oliver-Hill's lack of response to her campaign worker's remarks. The piece was signed by Leon Despres, Alderman Larry Bloom, Alderman John Steele, former alderman Marty Oberman, Dr. Timuel Black (a prominent educator and author who has also been involved in independent politics for many years), three former IVI-IPO state chairs, myself, and other current and former IVI-IPO board members.

The piece made the Dobrys and their political ally Marc Lipinski, who is now IVI-IPO's administrative vice chair, very mad. The next day they filed charges with CONDUCT because the Holt campaign had told voters what Oliver-Hill's campaign worker had done and what Oliver-Hill hadn't done. Anyone who had turned on the radio could have heard it. Steve Neal, the Hyde Park Herald, and the Holt campaign just told the truth about what Oliver-Hill's campaign was up to. That's why the CONDUCT charges didn't go anywhere.

In my opinion because the "UNBOSSED AND UNBOUGHT" piece came four days before the election, Oliver-Hill's campaign decided to use the mysterious "piece of pink paper" that Mr. Felshman talked about in his article. The "piece of pink paper" appeared in the middle of the night on election day in the black parts of the ward. The piece said it came from a black gay and lesbian group in Hyde Park. They were praising Holt and said she would be very good on gay and lesbian issues. The problem was that there was no such group! I think that the purpose of that piece was to cause blacks in the ward who might have a problem with gays to vote against Holt. Oliver-Hill's campaign was selling blacks short with that sick piece of literature.

At the IVI-IPO board meeting right after the election, Marc Lipinski was going on about how we couldn't prove that the Oliver-Hill campaign had put out the "piece of pink paper." That's true. But it was signed by a group that doesn't exist, and I can tell you that the Holt campaign did not produce that leaflet. It reminds me of the trick that was played in 1991 during Toni Preckwinkle's Fourth Ward aldermanic campaign against Tim Evans. But that time, Alan Dobry, who was then the Fifth Ward committeeman, was caught in the act of posting anti-Semitic pieces in broad daylight. Alan even posted the despicable literature on the door of Temple K.A.M. Isaiah Israel.

In case there is any doubt about the anti-Semitism and brazen tactics used in Oliver-Hill's campaign, I will describe an incident that took place at about 3 PM in a polling place at 67th and Cornell on election day, April 4, 1995. Jerry Meites and I had gone to this polling place, which was in a retirement center in the Highlands area of the Fifth Ward, to be poll watchers and troubleshooters because there had been reports of trouble there. Oliver-Hill, who was Fifth Ward Democratic committeeman, was in charge of choosing the election judges. When we got there, we were told by the judges that we could not stand behind the judges' table but had to sit with the other watchers against the wall about 20 to 30 feet away from the table where the judges were checking the voters' registration. So there would be no way for us to see if only properly registered voters were getting ballots. I showed the judges the place in the judges' manual where it said that poll watchers could stand right behind the judges and watch registrations being checked. They still refused to let us watch.

There was a police officer in the polling place who was sleeping. When I insisted to the judges that I had a right to stand behind them, they awakened the officer. The officer was upset because he had been awakened. The officer asked the judges if they wanted me to be thrown out of the polling place. The judges said no, they just wanted me to sit with the other poll watchers where I could not see what the judges were doing. I tried to show the officer the place in the judges' manual which said that poll watchers could stand behind the table and observe the registration checking process. The officer said that he did not care what the manual said and told me to go sit with the others by the wall. I then asked the officer what his name was. The officer said that anyone who asked him what his name was got arrested. I said, "OK, officer," and walked out of the room.

At that point, Commander Polk, the police commander for the district we were in, was called and he arrived at the polling place a few minutes later. When he came in, I showed Commander Polk the judges' manual. He then called the Board of Election Commissioners and asked them if the manual was correct. The board said it was. He then spoke to the judges and read to them from the manual. The judges said that the manual was not correct and that they had never let poll watchers stand behind them. Commander Polk told them that the manual was the law and they had to let me stand and watch.

Jerry then went behind the table to stand near the judges while I was walking out of the room with Commander Polk. But I was still in the room, and was close enough to hear one of the judges tell Jerry that the judges had been warned at "headquarters to watch out for Jewish lawyers from Hyde Park." When I heard that, I went back to the table and asked the judge what that was about. She then said to me, "You're Esau," referring to Jacob's brother in the Bible. Evidently, she saw me as a traitor because I was working with Jews in the Holt campaign.

Then the judges decided that they were just unwilling to be so closely watched by poll watchers. So they announced that they were closing the polls. Since there were almost four hours before the polls were supposed to close, this was a real problem. At this point, an elderly lady, who was probably about 80 years old and had great difficulty walking, came in to the room to vote. The same judge told her that the polls were closed. The lady said, "Is it seven o'clock already?" We then told the judge that we would report her to the U.S. attorney for violating the lady's right to vote if she did not reopen the polls right away. Jerry and I then went out of the room where the voting had been taking place to call the Board of Elections again. The board was shocked that the judges had done this and the board representative asked to talk to the judge. We told the judge that the board wanted to speak with her and the board person apparently told the judge to reopen the polls because she did so immediately after talking to the board. About a half an hour later two board investigators arrived. They told us they would be there to watch the voting for the rest of the day through the count. They sat right next to the judges' table. We felt it was OK to leave.

The things that went on in the near south chapter had a lot to do with my decision to leave IVI-IPO. The job of an independent organization is to work for clean elections. The fact that IVI-IPO near south leaders have been involved over and over again in campaigns using dirty tricks is a disgrace to everything that IVI-IPO is supposed to stand for.

Richard Barnett

W. 18th

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