Crystal Lake Mayor Haig Haleblian was the only candidate who filed to run for mayor in next year’s election. Despite that, in his own words, Haleblian will have to teach city residents how to properly spell his name, after withdrawing his candidate petition Thursday night and announcing he would switch to a write-in campaign.
“I made a mistake and I fully admit to it,” Haleblian said. “Pulling my name off the ballot will only embolden my run as a write-in candidate and will mobilize my constituents who will re-elect me. Let me make this perfectly clear, I am not going to quit this race.”
Haleblian’s decision came after objections were filed Dec. 6, against himself and two other incumbent city council members, Brett Hopkins and Ellen Brady. The objections were made by Don Kountz, an engineer who is also running for city council in the 2023 election.
A hearing took place in Crystal Lake City Hall Thursday night by the Municipal Officers Electoral Board to rule on the validity of the objections.
Both Hopkins and Brady, represented at the hearings by attorney Brandy Quance, had their candidate petitions upheld by the board, while Haleblian withdrew his nominating papers before his hearing took place.
Despite the fact that Haleblian acknowledged his error last week, he nevertheless criticized Kountz’ decision to object to the three candidates, accusing him of bullying and being vindictive.
Kountz and his attorney, John Dickson, also objected to the composition of the electoral board itself, arguing it was not properly constituted as the mayor, city clerk, city attorney and all the City Council members except Ferguson signed all the challenged candidates’ petitions.
The mayor recused himself from being part of the electoral board, but electoral board attorney Ken Florey said the only grounds for disqualifying the electoral board members was if they planned on being witnesses, and there was no jurisdiction to hear a motion by the board to disqualify itself.
Following the conclusion of the hearings, Dickson said he and Kountz would discuss in the coming days whether they will file an appeal due to their concerns about the electoral board.
The objection filed against Haleblian was that he omitted a statement of candidacy and a receipt for filing a statement of economic interests. For Hopkins, the objection included he had not clearly established what position they were running for – city council member – and that Brady had disqualified herself by writing the primary date, rather than the regular election date, on her statement of candidacy.
Dickson called the latter a “fatal defect” in the ballot filings.
While defending both Brady and Hopkins, Quance argued the fundamental rights of “voting and ballot access” ought to be favored over the objections.
Cathy Ferguson, who chaired the hearing, said she believed there would be “no voter confusion” as to what offices Hopkins and Brady were seeking.
Several Crystal Lake residents gave public comment on the situation, including Bob Miller, who ran for city council in fall 2018 and had his own candidate petition thrown out – Brady and Hopkins were among those who filed objections – after it was determined his statement of economic interest was delivered too late.
Miller called Hopkins and Brady “hypocrites” for their role in objecting to his previous candidacy, however Miller later commended Haleblian for acknowledging his mistake and switching to a write-in campaign.
Crystal Lake resident Bob Atkinson voiced his support for the incumbents, including Haleblian, and questioned Kountz’ motives in filing the objections.
“Sometimes this has been done in the past,” Atkinson said of the objections being filed against candidates. “That in itself does not make this right. This is a childish and desperate act.”
At the time he filed the objections, Kountz had said he was acting as “an engineer by education and career” and wanted things done accurately.
Kountz has run for political office in the past, including for mayor of Crystal Lake, against Haleblian, in 2021.
Brady, for her part, said there was “absolutely nothing wrong” with her paperwork and there was “no valid reason” to challenge it.
“I am a firm believer in following the law,” Brady said. “And I have filed objections in the past [to candidate petitions]; but those were for grievous errors. You have to have grounds to stand on.”
The primary election is on Feb. 28, 2023. The general election is on April 4, 2023.
CORRECTION: This story has been updated to correct which candidate was objected to over potential confusion over the position being sought. The objection regarding ambiguous wording was regarding Hopkins’ candidacy.