Candidate Ventura implicates county clerk in case against campaign opponent

Staley Ferry campaign representative calls claims ‘baseless’

Election 2024
Rachel Ventura at the Will County board meeting at the Will County Office Building. Thursday, Mar. 17, 2022, in Joliet.

A state Senate candidate has implicated Will County Clerk Lauren Staley Ferry as part of a case that her opponent committed petition fraud.

Rachel Ventura, a Democratic candidate for the 43rd District, contends that Staley Ferry, the top election official in Will County, circulated nominating petitions for Ventura’s opponent but did not sign them as the person gathering signatures.

The allegation is part of an objection Ventura filed with election authorities against Eric Mattson, her opponent in the June 28 Democratic primary, contending that Mattson signed as circulator for at least four petition sheets that he did not circulate.

Eric Mattson, a captain in the Joliet Fire Department, is circulating petitions as a Democratic candidate in the June 28, 2022 primary for the 43rd District state senate seat.

A representative for Staley Ferry called the allegation “baseless” and said it was part of an attempt to throw Mattson off the ballot.

Ventura is alleging a pattern of fraud in Mattson’s nominating petitions, which, if upheld by the Illinois State Board of Elections, could lead to her opponent being removed from the ballot.

Mattson, a Joliet firefighter, and Ventura are the only Democratic candidates for the 43rd Senate District seat.

Mattson did not return calls for comment.

Ventura, a member of the Will County Board, contends that her opponent violated election law by the manner in which his nominating petitions were collected and filed.

“We want our elected officials to follow the law,” she said. “There are rules for getting on the ballot. This is one of the first steps.”

Candidates running for office need to collect signatures on nominating petitions from a percentage of potential voters to get on the ballot. Whoever circulates the petitions is required to sign them before a notary public attesting that the signatures were collected in the presence of the person signing as circulator.

Ventura said her campaign has collected 10 affidavits from people to make their case before the state board.

Two of those affidavits involve Staley Ferry.

Lauren Staley-Ferry waits a Cook County worker files a petition to her get on the ballot for re-election as Will County Clerk in the 2022 primary election at the Will County Office Building. Monday, Mar. 7, 2022, in Joliet.

“Two of the affidavits specify,” Ventura said. “The people at the door said it was the Will County clerk who circulated the petitions.”

The petitions in question are signed by Mattson and fellow firefighter Chris O’Hara, not Staley Ferry, Ventura said.

“As our county clerk, it is her job to certify elections,” Ventura said of Staley Ferry. “It is very important for her to follow the law. I think it is concerning that she did not follow the law.”

Charles B. Pelkie, the chief of staff in the county clerk’s office who said he was speaking as a representative of Staley Ferry’s campaign, said the circumstances in question likely occurred when a group had gathered to circulate petitions “with each other and for each other.”

“The people who signed as the circulators were the circulators,” Pelkie said. “We don’t know what Rachel or her campaign manager told the people who signed the affidavits or what they said in the affidavits.”

Pelkie did not comment on whether Staley Ferry brought Mattson petitions to people’s doors to be signed without signing as the circulator. He said the question of whether the person getting the signature needs to be the one who signs as circulator is “something that’s going to have to be argued out.”

Pelkie called Ventura “a desperate candidate who’s trying to get her opponent kicked off the ballot. She doesn’t care who she smears in the process.”

“I don’t think facts are desperate, nor do I need to be desperate,” Ventura said. “It sounds like they’re looking at anything to downplay what happened here.”

Pelkie also said a campaign manager for Ventura “threatened” to make their allegations about Staley Ferry public if they did not help persuade Mattson to withdraw from the election.

“I didn’t threaten him at all,” said John Laesch, Ventura’s campaign manager.

Laesch said he contacted both Staley Ferry and Mattson to let them know about the objection the Ventura campaign planned to file.

The first hearing on Ventura’s objection to Mattson’s petitions is scheduled for Tuesday.