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updated: 1/31/2013 9:11 AM

Lake County candidate knocked off three ballots

Officials say he can run for only one office

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  • Perennial candidate James Creighton Mitchell Jr., of Lindenhurst, had filed to run for seats on four local government boards in the April 9 election. His named was removed from three of those races Wednesday because of a conflict of interest, officials ruled.

       Perennial candidate James Creighton Mitchell Jr., of Lindenhurst, had filed to run for seats on four local government boards in the April 9 election. His named was removed from three of those races Wednesday because of a conflict of interest, officials ruled.
    Gilbert R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer

  • Video: Mitchell Jr. on his campaign

 
 

Having already run for president, Congress, the state House and other offices, James Creighton Mitchell Jr. had hoped to add four more campaigns to his resume in April.

But it's not to be.

The perennial candidate from Lindenhurst won't be allowed to run for three school boards and a library board at the same time because of potential conflicts of interest, officials have ruled.

Mitchell had filed to be a candidate for posts on boards representing Lake Villa Elementary District 41, Antioch-Lake Villa Area High School District 117, the College of Lake County and the Lake Villa Library District.

But this week, officials with the three school districts removed Mitchell from their candidate lists because of legal incompatibilities.

Mitchell will be allowed to run only for the library board, said Lake County Clerk Willard Helander, who oversees local elections. He's already a member of that panel.

Mitchell -- a 69-year-old Navy veteran and water plant operator who has run for president, Congress and many other offices through the years -- shrugged off the political setback.

"I'm disappointed that this was an oversight on my part," he told the Daily Herald on Wednesday. "I wouldn't have gone through the effort if I knew it was an incompatibility."

Under Illinois law, people can hold multiple elected offices as long as the posts are deemed compatible.

The attorney general's office has issued opinions on many potential political conflicts, ruling some types of simultaneous service are OK and others are not.

For example, someone can serve on a library board and a school board at the same time; city councils and school boards are incompatible, however.

Knowing Mitchell was pursuing four seats in the April 9 election, Helander sought advice from the Lake County state's attorney's office, which represents her staff.

Attorneys advised Helander that simultaneously serving on multiple school boards is a conflict, she said. Helander then reported the potential conflict to the three school agencies, which removed Mitchell from their candidate lists because he hadn't withdrawn from contention by a Jan. 3 deadline.

Mitchell was perplexed by the moves.

"I find it really kind of strange that you can't run for (all) the offices," he said. "They're all separate entities."

Unfortunately for Mitchell, they're separate entities that potentially have contracts with each other for services. That could present conflicts of interest for trustees serving on both boards at once, the attorney general's office has said.

Even so, Illinois Association of School Boards attorney Melinda Selbee believes some Illinoisans are serving on two school boards at once. She was unable to cite any examples.

Mitchell is no stranger to politics.

He has served on the county's regional board of education since 2002 and the library board on and off since 1993. His current terms on those boards expire this spring.

He's also served on the Lake County Board and as a West Deerfield Township trustee when he lived in Highland Park in the 1980s. He was on Highland Park's mosquito abatement board for a while, too.

Mitchell unsuccessfully ran for the state House in 1992, Congress in 2006, president in 2008, the CLC board in 2009 and the Lake County Board in 2012.

In an interview earlier this week, Mitchell said he wanted to run for all four boards to bring attention to certain issues and build cooperation between the agencies. He hoped his efforts would boost voter turnout, which traditionally drops off for local elections.

"It's promoting democracy," Mitchell explained.

Lake County political leaders disagreed.

"(It) does a real disservice to the electorate," Lake County Republican Party leader Bob Cook told the Daily Herald before the school districts struck Mitchell's candidacies. "He needs to pick one office and run for that one and do the best job he can."

Cook's Democratic Party counterpart, state Sen. Terry Link, was equally perturbed.

"Does he stand for the right thing for all of those (boards), or does he just want to get elected?" Link asked.

The suburbs have a history of politicians serving in two posts simultaneously.

State Rep. Ed Sullivan Jr. of Mundelein also is Fremont Township's assessor, and Vernon Township Supervisor William Peterson of Long Grove simultaneously served in the state Senate for years.

And then there's Link, a veteran senator who is running to be Waukegan's next mayor.

Helander doesn't recall anyone running for four offices at once during her 18-year tenure.

Mitchell wasn't the only suburban candidate entered in multiple races this spring.

In Kane County, Jay Moffat is running for seats on the Geneva Library District and Geneva Park District boards. He also was running for the Geneva School District 304 board but withdrew because of an attorney general opinion that said school and park district offices are incompatible.

Mitchell probably won't challenge the school districts' decisions, saying he doesn't have the financial resources to do so.

He said he may consider a write-in campaign for the District 41 board.

Even with Mitchell's elimination as a candidate in some of the races, all remain contested.

Five people are seeking three seats on the District 41 board. Five people also are seeking four seats on the District 117 board. And five people are seeking two seats on the CLC board.

Six people, including Mitchell, are after three seats on the library board.

• Daily Herald staff writer Susan Sarkauskas contributed to this report.

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