Carmen Navarro Gercone again knocked off ballot in sheriff’s race

The candidacy of one of Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart’s top Democratic rivals was thrown into serious question yet again when an Illinois appellate court on Wednesday tossed her off the ballot one week after early voting began and less than three weeks before primary Election Day.

Carmen Navarro Gercone, a onetime top aide to Dart who now works for the clerk of the Circuit Court’s office, is ineligible to run for sheriff because she failed to obtain a law enforcement certification that is now required for county sheriffs in Illinois under a controversial provision of a new state law, the appellate court ruled. It is the latest ruling in Navarro Gercone’s efforts to challenge Dart, which has now seen her pulled from the ballot twice.

“It’s very frustrating,” Navarro Gercone said in a phone interview, while also vowing to appeal the decision to the Illinois Supreme Court. “I’ve learned so much about the business of politics. And it cannot continue this way. I learned how it’s used to shut out good people with good intentions.”

Due to the ruling, notices will be placed at early voting sites and future polling sites informing voters that Navarro Gercone has been removed as a candidate, and that votes for her will not be counted, a Chicago Board of Elections spokesman said Wednesday. The Cook County clerk’s office will seek to do the same for suburban sites, a spokeswoman said.

The whiplash over which sheriff candidates are on the ballot and which aren’t has been a consistent theme leading up to the June 28 primary. Another Democratic candidate, Dolton police Officer LaTonya Ruffin, was disqualified by a state appellate court last week after the Dart campaign objected to her filing to run under a last name different from that of her voter registration. Another candidate challenging Dart is Noland Rivera, a Chicago police sergeant. He is still on the ballot.

Navarro Gercone has run the highest-profile challenge against Dart, in part because of his campaign’s efforts to get her removed from the ballot. She has repeatedly expressed frustration over her candidacy challenge that stems from a law requiring anyone running for a sheriff’s position in Illinois be a certified law enforcement officer — or complete the equivalent training at another state or with the federal government. That provision took effect this year and was tucked deep inside the 700-page Safety, Accountability, Fairness and Equity-Today law, or SAFE-T Act, signed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker in 2021.

“It is incredibly important this issue is clarified so voters know they are voting on candidates who are legally authorized to hold the office,” Dart campaign spokesman Joseph Ryan said in a Wednesday statement. “Sheriff Dart had nothing to do with passing this law, but he is nonetheless bound by it as is every other candidate for Sheriff.”

While she was never a sworn police officer, Navarro Gercone had training as a corrections officer and was a sergeant, a lieutenant and an assistant chief at the sheriff’s office. Dart, Cook County’s sheriff for 16 years, was once a prosecutor but was never a sworn police officer. While his status is not an issue because he is grandfathered in under the new law, Dart received a law enforcement certification late last year, according to state records.

Dart initially challenged Navarro Gercone’s candidacy with the Cook County Electoral Board, which cited the Illinois Law Enforcement Training and Standards Board’s decision in February to deny a request to either certify her as a law enforcement officer or allow her a waiver. That was the first time she was knocked off the ballot.

But two weeks ago, a Cook County Circuit Court judge allowed Navarro Gercone back on the ballot and blasted the Electoral Board’s decision as “a clear dereliction of duty.” The judge said the electoral body should never have deferred its power to the state training board.

That decision was appealed by the Electoral Board and, in the Wednesday ruling, the appellate court said it is lawful for county election officials to look to the training board for guidance, as state law gives the training board the power of law enforcement certification.

“For the electoral board to second-guess or review the training board’s decision would have been in excess of and contrary to its statutory authority and would therefore be void,” Wednesday’s decision stated.

The appellate court also noted that Navarro Gercone did not meet the qualifications of the office when she filed her nominating petitions, so she should be disqualified.

“No principle of English grammar or statutory construction permits an interpretation of the law which would allow candidates to defer meeting the qualifications of office until some later time,” the decision stated.

While rejecting that interpretation, Navarro Gercone said if she does ultimately become disqualified, she can only hope Dart heeds the comments she’s made on the campaign trail about ways to reform the sheriff’s office.

“At the end of the day, I hope that he takes a good look at what I said,” Navarro Gercone said. “I want the right thing to be done.”

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