'A cloud over the dais': Naperville mayor, council member trade barbs over campaign mailer, transparency

Tensions rose in the Naperville City Council chambers Tuesday night as Mayor Steve Chirico and Councilwoman Theresa Sullivan traded barbs over transparency and a campaign mailer distributed to residents through a political action committee chaired by Sullivan.

Three candidates running in the April 4 election spoke at the meeting, expressing their displeasure about a mailer sent by the Naperville Forward PAC that references book banning and says candidates running for mayor and city council, and school and park district boards, have a "fanatical agenda."

The mailer doesn't mention specific candidates who may ban books, but it does include endorsements of several candidates.

Park district candidate Chris Jacks, Naperville Unit District 203 school board candidate Ron Amato and mayoral candidate Tiffany Stephens spoke against the mailer and the fact it was distributed by a PAC chaired by Sullivan, a sitting council member. Each also said they don't support book banning.

Chirico then spoke against the mailer's distribution, referencing a recently approved code of conduct policy for council members and officials on city boards and commissions. He called the mailer "dirty politics" and said Sullivan violated the policy.

Sullivan admonished Chirico for blindsiding her with the accusations and for not speaking with her or other council members about them before the meeting. She said she and the PAC violated no rules, and if candidates felt targeted by the mailer, "that's on you."

Chirico, who announced last year he wasn't running for a third term, took the added step of suggesting Sullivan, who also isn't running for reelection, should be censured for distributing the mailer through the PAC.

Chirico, however, said he wouldn't pursue censure with only a few meetings remaining for both of them.

"We now have a cloud over the dais because of this," he said.

Just before the meeting ended, Chirico again criticized Sullivan for voting in favor of a responsible bidder ordinance earlier in the meeting without first disclosing union contributions to Naperville Forward.

Reached Wednesday, Sullivan called Chirico's actions "political theater" and said the city's campaign ethics rules apply to individual campaigns and not PACs. Chirico asked for the campaign ethics ordinance to be brought back for a vote to repeal it because he said it's not fulfilling its intentions.

Sullivan stood by the use of the mailer as a way to reach voters about important issues trickling into local politics. She did say in retrospect, though, that the mailer - which she said was written and designed by a consulting firm - should have been worded and designed differently to not appear as if they were calling out candidates for possible beliefs on book banning.

The intent of the mailer, she said, was to boost endorsed candidates. Sullivan said she regretted putting the endorsed candidates in a position of having to deal with the fallout from the mailer.

"If I was accusing anybody specifically, I would have said it," she said. "The point was that we need to ask these questions."

As for being chided by Chirico for not disclosing Naperville Forward campaign contributions in reference to the responsible bidder ordinance, Sullivan at Tuesday's meeting eventually did acknowledge a $5,000 contribution to the PAC from a laborers union. She said it didn't affect her vote and again stressed she's not running for reelection.

On Wednesday, she said her initial lack of disclosure was due partly to being surprised when council members Jennifer Bruzan Taylor and Ian Holzhauer called for a first and final vote on the responsible bidder ordinance.

"That's why it didn't occur to me, but I think if we would have gone to that second vote, I would have been happy to say it," she said Wednesday. "That's why I did say it in the end. I have nothing to hide."

Naperville Councilwoman Theresa Sullivan defended a campaign mailer distributed by the Naperville Forward political action committee she chairs. Courtesy of the city of Naperville
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