Officials deny complaints in Lake commissioner, clerk races

2014-03-18T19:45:00Z 2014-05-06T18:59:05Z Officials deny complaints in Lake commissioner, clerk racesBill Dolan bill.dolan@nwi.com, (219) 662-5328 nwitimes.com
March 18, 2014 7:45 pm  • 

MERRILLVILLE | County and Merrillville officials have dismissed two election complaints lodged by a Gary woman hoping to upset a Lake County commissioner in the spring Democratic Party primary.

Lita M. Iatarola Filippo asked town officials this week to declare a billboard at 73rd Avenue and Broadway promoting the re-election of her opponent, Commissioner Roosevelt Allen Jr., to be in violation of town ordinances forbidding political signs put up before 30 days prior to the election.

Filippo is challenging Allen in the May 6 primary.

She said the large amount of money Allen has to invest in political billboards, located around the district, gives him weeks of additional exposure to voters that she cannot afford.

"Let's have a fair election," she said.

Dorinda Gregor, Merrillville zoning director, said Tuesday billboards are exempt under the town's political sign ordinances.

Gregor said the town has strictly enforced the ordinances against yard signs made of cardboard and wood during her many years with the town. She said this was the first anyone had asked the town to restrict political billboards.

Filippo said the town didn't address her concerns that the political billboard also is in violation because it overhangs public property, the right of way extending from Broadway, a state highway.

She said she is prepared to appeal to the town's attorney over zoning issues.

Allen said Tuesday he was unaware of Filippo's complaint and thought their dismissal of it was fair.

"It is perfectly legal to use billboards. I use a reputable billboard company, which employs citizens in my district. This will help keep the company in the district."

The county election board, which met Tuesday, dismissed another complaint by Filippo; Josefina Magallanes, a Democratic candidate for county clerk; and a third woman who witnessed the election board Feb. 18 lottery to choose ballot positions for more than 100 candidates running in contested races this spring.

The lottery resulted in Filippo's name being listed below Allen's, and Magallanes' name will appear below her opponent's, Lake County Clerk Mike Brown, on the May 6 ballot.

Michelle Fajman, county elections director, said Filippo complained in a letter that election board members who conducted the lottery weren't really picking names at random.

Prior to 1991, candidates were listed on ballots in alphabetic order. The Legislature changed the law to give every candidate a shot at a high ballot position through a lottery.

Last month, elections board staff wrote candidates' names on slips of paper, folded each slip together and placed all names in a single race into a plastic jar. Board members picked slips out of the jar and assigned ballot position from top to bottom by the order names were drawn.

Fajman said Filippo wrote it wasn't a truly blind draw, because some slips of paper were folded differently from others. Kevin Smith, elections board chairman, said he found Filippo's claim "ridiculous."

Filippo, who wasn't present at Tuesday's election board meeting, complained she wasn't notified of the hearing and challenges the dismissal as improper.

Allen said Tuesday he didn't understand the complaint.

"There are only two names in our race. They will both be prominently displayed," he said.

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