Challenger to Cook County sheriff fighting to get back on the ballot

A candidate in the Democratic primary race for Cook County sheriff who was removed from the ballot after the county's board of elections found she lacked the law enforcement certification required by a new law is challenging that ruling in court.

Carmen Navarro Gercone on Friday filed a petition asking a court to reverse the electoral board's decision and reinstate her on the June 28 primary ballot. Gercone, who was sworn in as a Cook County sheriff's deputy in 1994, is running against incumbent Tom Dart and Chicago police Sgt. Noland Rivera.

Objections to Gercone's candidacy involve provisions in the Illinois Safety, Accountability, Fairness and Equity Today Act signed into law last year. Under the measure, a person cannot be elected or appointed sheriff as of 2022 unless the individual has successfully completed "the Minimum Standards Basic Law Enforcement Officers Training Course as prescribed by the Illinois Law Enforcement Training Standards Board or a substantially similar training program of another state or the federal government." The law exempts sitting sheriffs.

Gercone claims the provision is unconstitutional.

"At the end of the day Tom Dart is a politician with no law enforcement background, yet this law does not apply to sheriffs currently sitting," Gercone said.

"If the purpose of this law is to ensure that the public receives the highest quality of professionalism from law enforcement community, why would you go a step further and protect sheriffs that don't have that?"

She argues the training she received as a sheriff's deputy and at the Federal Bureau of Investigations National Academy - a selective, 10-week program she attended in 2013 - qualifies as "substantially similar training." Academy candidates must be nominated by their agencies, according to the FBI website.

"For Tom Dart to come back and say I'm not law enforcement and do not have substantially similar training is laughable," said Gercone, who now works for the office of the Cook County circuit court clerk.

According to electoral board records, the hearing officer described Gercone's training and experience as "lengthy and impressive."

However, Keith Calloway, interim director of the state training and standards board, testified that Gercone has a corrections officer certificate, not a law enforcement officer certificate. He also said Gercone's FBI training did not "constitute substantially similar training."

A Dart spokesman said the sheriff has the appropriate law enforcement credentials the new law requires.

"Sheriff Dart has completed the coursework and state test required by the Illinois Law Enforcement Training and Standards Board and is a certified law enforcement officer as required by law," said Joe Ryan.

Gercone argues that the provision requiring training or certification for sheriffs violates Illinois' constitution, calling it "government overreach."

"When I make the ballot, I win," Gercone said. "That's what he (Dart) is afraid of."

Rivera agreed a sheriff should have a strong law enforcement background but said "it's not fair or certainly questionable for a law to be introduced on candidate credentials during an election cycle."

"A new law with this much of an impact should have been scheduled to begin in the next election cycle, not the current one," he added.

"Also, grandfathering the incumbent gives it the appearance of impropriety."

The three-person electoral board consisted of Edmund Michalowski, representing Cook County Clerk Karen Yarbrough; Jessica M. Scheller, representing Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx; and Gloria Chevere, representing Cook County Circuit Court Clerk Iris Martinez.

Michalowski and Scheller voted to remove Gercone from the primary ballot. Chevere dissented.

Tom Dart
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