With state Sen. Tom Cullerton considering a bid to become chairman of the DuPage Democratic Party, two of his supporters are mounting a legal challenge that could help clear the way.
In a lawsuit filed this month, Markus Pitchford and Michael Penicnak claim the DuPage County Democratic Central Committee and DuPage Democratic Party Chairman Robert Peickert violated state law by amending the organization's bylaws.
The amendment, approved in November, requires elected officers of the central committee to have served as a Democratic precinct committeeman "for at least two of the last three terms."
Before the amendment, there were no time requirements and officers merely had to be precinct committeemen.
The lawsuit filed against the committee and Peickert claims the amendment was "drafted and implemented to frustrate the democratic process and to further a desperate attempt" to maintain power.
"DCDCC and Peickert adopted this amendment for the primary purpose of preventing meaningful opposition to Peickert," according to the suit.
On Monday, Peickert questioned what motivated the suit. "I think there is more behind this," he said.
That's because Cullerton is mulling the possibility of challenging Peickert, who plans to seek his fourth 2-year term as party chairman during the local Democratic convention on April 16.
"I've looked at a lot of different options," Cullerton said Monday. "But before that conversation can happen, I would have to be a precinct committeeman, and right now, I'm not."
If a DuPage judge rules the amendment is illegal, anyone who is a Democratic precinct committeeman could challenge Peickert for the leadership role.
Cullerton, of Villa Park, is running for a committeeman spot for the first time in the March 18 primary. His opponent in York Township's 55th precinct is Arthur P. Biladeau of Villa Park.
Cullerton said he won't make a final decision on whether he'll seek the party chairman position until after the primary.
"The consideration ends on March 18 if I don't win my precinct," he said.
In a letter sent several months ago to Cullerton, the Democratic Party chairmen of Addison, Bloomingdale, York and Wayne townships urged him not to run for chairman of the DuPage Democratic Party. They told him they are "solidly backing" Peickert as chairman.
"The only thing your challenge will do is split this organization," according to a copy of the letter obtained by the Daily Herald.
In the meantime, Cullerton said he isn't involved in the lawsuit that Pitchford and Penicnak filed.
"I am not behind it," he said. "That's between them and their attorney."
Diane Blair, the Villa Park attorney representing the two men, also insists Cullerton isn't behind the lawsuit. "They (Pitchford and Penicnak) are doing it on behalf of themselves," she said.
Peickert said he doesn't buy it.
"You have a college student from Northern Illinois University (Penicnak) and you have somebody who has worked for Tom Cullerton (Pitchford)," Peickert said. "Of all the people in this organization, those are the two people who are most interested in changing these bylaws?"
According to his LinkedIn profile, Pitchford previously worked as a field director for Cullerton's campaign. The Lombard resident has since been appointed to Cullerton's Minority and Diversity Commission and serves as chairman of that panel.
Penicnak, who is a Democratic precinct committeeman from Wood Dale, endorsed Cullerton during the campaign.
Blair insists Pitchford and Penicnak oppose the bylaw change because "they're good young men who have principles."
"My question would be why does the party have an issue with people running for chair who haven't served two of the last three terms?" she said.
Ted Lonis, who is chairman of the Wayne Township Democrats, said precinct committeemen supported the amendment by a 69 to 27 vote because they want a chairman who is familiar with the organization and its members.
Blair said the committee is the only countywide party organization in the state to force precinct committeemen to meet an extra requirement to be eligible for a leadership position. "So this has statewide implications," she said.