By SUE SUCHYTA
Sunday Times Newspapers
SOUTHGATE – City Councilwoman Karen George questioned the safety of collecting petition signatures to run for city office during a pandemic, as required by city charter, at the Feb. 17 council meeting.
She said she plans to file petitions to run for another council term, by collecting 100 signatures, as required by the city charter. However, she questions the safety of a practice that requires close contact.
“With COVID-19, I’m not sure how we can safely get signatures,” she said. “I won’t go door-to-door, and don’t see how one could have a fundraiser or a gathering of supporters.”
George asked whether it would be possible to get a waiver on the signature requirement, with the alternative choice of paying a fee instead, or to have the option of collecting fewer signatures.
“I just feel it is not safe to get signatures, and is not setting a good example,” she said.
George said that while she and her husband have both been vaccinated against COVID-19, younger members of the council are not yet eligible to receive the vaccine.
“Personally, I do like talking to residents and getting signatures, but I don’t want to put anyone in jeopardy and don’t want to expose my husband to any harm,” she said. “There is too much unknown about this virus.”
George asked the mayor and city attorney to look into her concern, and to find out what might be done to safely file for office.
City Attorney Ed Zelenak said Feb. 18 he did not think collecting petition signatures would put one in violation of pandemic safety measures.
“Every court decision so far seems to weigh in favor of allowing people to circulate petitions, and last year, some courts even extended the time to get the signatures,” he said.
Zelenak said there was not a definitive answer to safely guide signature collection.
“Politics is a rough and tumble business,” he said. “The candidates will have to figure that out. It takes a deep commitment to run for public office, regardless of whether it is local or national, and this year, it is even harder.”
Zelenak said there is not enough time to change the city charter before the upcoming election cycle.
“It is all an interesting concept,” he said. “I think it would be an interesting question on a bar exam, but I don’t think it is going to get much further than that this year.”
Zelenak said in neighboring Lincoln Park, where he also serves as city attorney, candidates still collected signature and an election was held.
“The existing law says your charter requirements prevail for setting local election requirements,” he said. “Those are the standards.”