Charges of intimidation, guns, and suspicious packages fly in Seventh Ward race

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Keiana Barrett says she wants to oust Seventh Ward alderman Natashia Holmes but isnt using armed private investigators to help her do it.
  • Richard A. Chapman/Sun-Times Media
  • Keiana Barrett says she wants to oust Seventh Ward alderman Natashia Holmes but isn't using armed private investigators to help her do it.
Keiana Barrett says she didn't send guys with guns to talk to people supporting her opponent.

And Barrett insists she really hasn't been focused on trying to get Seventh Ward alderman Natashia Holmes kicked off the ballot.

But some of the people who signed petitions for the alderman say they were visited and questioned by armed private investigators. And two neighborhood residents who just happen to have a well-connected lawyer challenged Holmes's ballot paperwork.

It's fair to say a political fracas is underway in the Seventh Ward.

Holmes was appointed alderman by Mayor Rahm Emanuel in 2013, after predecessor Sandi Jackson and her husband, former congressman Jesse Jackson Jr., were convicted of misusing campaign funds. Barrett had served as Sandi Jackson's chief of staff and hoped to get the appointment that went to Holmes.

When time came to run for a full term, Holmes and her campaign aides say she submitted more than double the 473 signatures needed to get on the ballot.

Not so, says Barrett. She says she took one glance at Holmes's signatures and found them "riddled with inadequacies. If an incumbent is successful, they can get 473 [valid] signatures in an afternoon."

Two ward residents, Richard Conner and Dave Mendoza, challenged the signatures. Barrett won't say whether they were working on her behalf. Neither will their attorney, Brendan Shiller, son of former 46th Ward alderman Helen Shiller. The Chicago Board of Elections began reviewing the challenge.

That's when the Holmes campaign started talking about guys with badges and guns. Holmes charged that private investigators had shown up at residents' homes to ask whether they'd signed petitions for the alderman.

A spokesman for Holmes says the tactic might have worked: one P.I. told the election board that she'd approached 16 voters and was able to get four to sign affidavits denying that their signatures were on Holmes's petitions.

"No one should have to endure visits from armed investigators at their doorstep as a consequence for participating in the political process," Holmes declared.

Barrett's campaign denied knowing about the investigators.

Shiller said he's never heard of the use of armed private investigators contacting voters to verify signatures. It's even rare to collect affidavits for a signature challenge, and he said his clients "never got that far."

When the episode was over, Holmes emerged with 484 voter signatures, 11 more than the minimum to remain on the ballot. Now she's reportedly getting backup from Chicago Forward, Emanuel's super PAC, which is working to protect mayoral loyalists around the city.

Meanwhile, another candidate, LaShonda "Shonnie" Curry, says an investigator started asking about the validity of her petitions several weeks ago. "I don't know who was behind it," she says. "I can only say a mysterious person showed up at my church one Sunday and tried to coerce my notary into signing false affidavits saying that she did not sign [off] on the petitions when she did."

Last week an organization that had endorsed Curry told her it had received a notice in the mail alleging that she was under investigation for campaign fraud and forgery. The document also accused National Nurses United of being a "co-conspirator/party" and said an investigation was underway by the Illinois attorney general, secretary of state, board of elections and other agencies "having jurisdiction" in the matter.

Curry calls the document and the voter intimidation allegations a "distraction" from the real issues of the campaign: public safety, jobs, and economic development.

Five other candidates also remain on the ballot: Flora "Flo" Digby, Gregory Mitchell, Joseph Moseley, Margie Reid, and Bernie Riley.

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