Naperville House candidate says race prompted residency questions
State representative candidate Valerie Montgomery intends to pursue her election bid, despite a court ruling that the Naperville Democrat doesn't live in the 41st House District.
Montgomery publicly addressed the issue for the first time Friday in a Facebook post suggesting that race played a factor in the confusion over her residency in the district.
"Political corruption and white privilege are real and happen in too many places," Montgomery wrote. "The only thing I am guilty of is being a black woman in Naperville. This is not the first time a black woman in IL has run for office and suddenly issues with residency emerge. The NAACP has experience dealing with these kinds of things and will be helping so I can focus on the voters."
On Monday, her opponent, incumbent Grant Wehrli, the Naperville Republican who filed the lawsuit pointing out the residency error, strongly denied those claims.
Judge Bonnie Wheaton last week ordered the DuPage County Election Commission to correct a "coding error" that incorrectly placed Montgomery's Naperville home in the 41st House District.
According to Wheaton's ruling, Montgomery actually lives in the state's 49th House District, which includes parts of Naperville, Aurora, Batavia, Geneva, St. Charles and Wayne.
Montgomery ran unopposed in the April Democratic primary. She also was featured on a Time cover as part of a collage of Women's March participants the magazine called "The Avengers."
"My message has always been doing what's right by the people. I will continue this focus," Montgomery wrote. "Representing the people and listening to voters is what's at stake in this election. My opponent doesn't seem to want to discuss issues or voting records. So, when people show you who they really are, listen."
But Wehrli noted Montgomery's absence at a Daily Herald endorsement interview Monday. Montgomery did not respond to invitations to the meeting with a member of the newspaper's editorial board and could not be reached for comment.
"I'll face the voters, and I'll debate public policy wherever and however," Wehrli said. "Her absence is an interesting follow-up to that statement."
Wehrli said he was made aware of the residency issue by a constituent who's a precinct committeeman "sometime near the end of August, in front of Labor Day" and contacted his attorney.
"My suit was not against my opponent. I applaud anyone that's willing to run in this environment," Wehrli said. "I mean, go (for it). People step up, run, have at it, but you have to follow the law when you're doing it, and if there's a question in the law, find out."
Wehrli denied race had a role in the controversy.
"I think those that know me find that to be ... it's a farce. It's identity politics from the left," he said. "I'll sit down and debate issues all day, every day, with anyone. My history shows that I've supported female candidates for Naperville City Council, whether you go back to Judy Brodhead. I was an early supporter of her. She's a Democrat."
DuPage Democratic Chairman Robert Pieckert said Monday he respects Montgomery's decision to remain in the race.
"If Val feels that she wants to stay, I'm all for it," he said.
But Pieckert said there are "no good choices here."
"It's really kind of a coin flip. If she steps away, and we fill it, and so far we haven't found anybody who said, 'Yes, I'll fill it if she steps down,' so that's another hurdle that we need to reach," he said.
Montgomery's name will remain on the ballot until she decides otherwise, according to the state board of elections.
"Unless she voluntarily withdraws and submits her withdrawal to us, she stays on the ballot," spokesman Matt Dietrich said in an email. "If she wins, it will be up to the legislature to decide whether to seat her as a representative of the 41st District."
Election lawyers have differing opinions as to what would happen if she wins. DuPage Election Commission attorney Pat Bond said Montgomery would be unable to vote for herself and would be unable to serve even if she wins because her residency makes her ineligible to hold the office. State election law requires candidates to live in their district for two years before running for elected office, he said.