Soon after Jason Farbman filed his Green Party candidacy for state representative from the 14th District, the regulars in Rogers Park did what they usually do to independents who dare to challenge their machine. They brought in the lawyers and took Farbman to court, hoping to have him bounced from the ballot for violating some technicality. To their surprise, and the delight of his backers, Farbman isn’t just fighting back–he’s exposing an embarrassing election-law blunder on the part of his Democratic opponents.

“What Jason’s done is awesome,” says Dan Johnson Weinberger, a north-side Green Party activist. “The regulars must have thought Jason would fold. But Jason’s got guts–he’s taking it to the machine.”

This might look like a fight Farbman can’t possibly win. His opponent in the November election, incumbent state representative Harry Osterman, is the son of one of Mayor Daley’s closest north-side allies, the late 48th Ward alderman Kathy Osterman. North-side Democratic committeemen appointed Harry Osterman state representative in January 2000, when Carol Ronen vacated the office to become a state senator. A few months later Osterman beat Claude Walker in the Democratic primary–after getting endorsements from Daley, house speaker Michael Madigan, and virtually every other Democratic Party bigwig. Since then he’s positioned himself as a loyal functionary in the Madigan-Daley machine.

In contrast, Farbman is a 24-year-old cage-rattling populist who says what he wants no matter whom he might offend, being either too naive to know better or too independent to care. Born and raised near Danbury, Connecticut, he dropped out of Bard College in 1998 (“I was frustrated regurgitating what the teachers were saying to us”), sang in a punk rock band, and made his living as a waiter at an Olive Garden restaurant. He moved to Chicago in November 2000. “Why not?” he says. “My sister came out here to go to the Art Institute, and it only took me a few minutes of walking around to feel comfortable here.”

He settled in Rogers Park, found a job at a restaurant in Evanston, and decided to get involved in Green Party politics: “I went to their Web site and found this little notice that said, ‘Want to be a candidate? Want to run?'” He sent an E-mail to the site and soon found himself talking with Weinberger, who encouraged him to challenge Osterman. “Harry’s a machine politician in a neighborhood that’s not really a machine neighborhood,” says Farbman. “Mayor Daley put him in office because of his family connections. He hasn’t really done anything. I’m sure he’s a nice guy, but having him represent Rogers Park is a big waste. In Rogers Park we should have a representative with progressive points of view as opposed to the usual watered-down, mainstream crap.”

By April, Farbman, backed by the local Greens, had decided to run. That’s when he began learning the basics of Chicago politics. “The first thing I learned is that since the Democrats and Republicans write the election-law rules, it’s very difficult for an independent to even get on the ballot,” he says. “A Democrat or Republican needs only 300 signatures to get on the ballot to run for state rep. An independent needs 1,500 signatures. Why? I guess they’d tell you it’s to make sure that we’re legitimate candidates–whatever that means. Realistically, it’s a rule they created to maintain their power.”

On April 8 Farbman and his campaign manager, John Garone, started gathering signatures. “We were lackluster at first, but we got better,” he says. “In a way, the regulars did us a favor. You have to collect 1,500 signatures? OK, that sucks. But that means we have to talk to thousands of voters–and that only makes us stronger.”

On June 21 he submitted 2,380 signatures to the Board of Elections. On July 1 a woman named Kara Allen, represented by attorney Michael Kasper, filed an objection to his nominating petition. “I’d never heard of Kara Allen, but she’s not the key person in this case,” says Farbman. “Kasper’s key. He’s very up-front about his Democratic connections.”

According to Allen’s challenge, Farbman’s nomination papers “contain petition sheets with the names of persons who are not registered voters, or who are not registered voters at the addresses shown opposite their respective names,” as well as “the names of persons who did not sign the papers in their own proper persons” and “the names of persons for whom the addresses stated are not in the 14th Representative District.” Allen asked that these signatures be thrown out, along with all of the signatures gathered by Garone, on the grounds that he “purports to reside” at one address but “publically lists his residence address and is registered to vote” at another, making his “affidavit on those sheets…false and those sheets…invalid in their entirety.” Allen also asked that Farbman be removed from the ballot, because he’d gathered “less than 1,500 validly collected signatures.”

This isn’t the first time the Democrats have challenged signatures supporting independent candidates. It’s one of those time-honored political coming-of-age rites most independents must endure–along with getting their campaign posters destroyed and their canvassers taunted. Weinberger had undergone the rite in the summer of 2000, when he battled Democrats–again represented by Kasper–who were trying to bounce Ralph Nader, the Green Party’s presidential candidate, from the Illinois ballot.

“In Nader’s case we needed 25,000 signatures to make the state ballot,” Weinberger recalls. “We turned in about 39,000. The Democrats challenged 19,000, so that meant we had to save 5,000 signatures. It was brutal–sort of hand-to-hand combat. We compared the signatures on our petitions to the signatures on registration cards. They had all these party people doing their dirty work. After a while we got to know them. They let us know it wasn’t personal. They were just doing what they had to do to get a job with the county or the city or whatever.”

The Greens prevailed, and Nader stayed on the ballot. But Farbman’s case may be trickier, because he openly admits that some of his petition signers probably live outside the district. “I’m not saying we have 2,300 ironclad signatures–remember, we were new and got off to a bad start,” he says. “I’m sure there are some bad signatures there–just as I’m sure there are some bad signatures on Osterman’s petitions. But 800 bad signatures? Enough to knock me off? No way.”

He denies that his campaign forged any signatures, as Allen alleges. As for Garone’s address, it’s an innocent oversight. “Garone used to live on California,” he says, “but now he lives on Carmen. When he signed his affidavit on the bottom of his signature sheet he had already moved. He just hadn’t updated his voter’s registration. All we need is to bring in a utility bill showing that he lived on Carmen when he got those signatures. So give me a break.”

Yet Farbman concedes that Allen’s suit has already succeeded on one level–it has forced him to spend time and money fighting it. “As an act of harassment, it’s worked,” he says. “Here I am, reading through mountains of legal paper and going down to the Board of Elections and spending all this time answering their silly charges. I can’t afford a lawyer, so I have to do my own legal research and write my legal documents and argue my own case.”

On Sunday, July 14, he found himself at his desk composing a motion, due the next day, asking the Board of Elections to dismiss Allen’s complaint. “I had done all this legal research, and I was going to write that the case should be dismissed because Allen has asked the board to overreach its authority,” he says. “But as I got ready to write, something seemed strange. In her objector’s petition [Allen] says she lives at 5431 N. Lakeview. And I kept thinking, Lakeview, Lakeview–where the hell is Lakeview? Suddenly right there it dawned on me–there is no Lakeview. Not in my district anyway. There’s a Lakewood up here. But Lakeview–where her petition says she lives–is south of my district, by Fullerton and Diversey. You have to understand the situation. It’s 11 at night and I’m flying high on Pepsi. I want to jump up and down and scream hallelujah, because this is everything I can hope for. They have all these lawyers, all these supposed experts who supposedly know the election law inside and out–all these people who are endlessly trying to screw me and all the other independents on bizarre election-law stuff that only a nerd would understand. And they got it wrong! I still can’t believe it. Can you imagine all the thousands and thousands of signatures they’ve tossed out over the years for having the wrong address? Can you imagine all the independent campaigns they ruined with this tactic? The enormity of it all hit me there and then. If [Allen] doesn’t live where she says she lives, you gotta throw out her objection. Hey, if it’s good for the goose, it’s good for the gander.”

Legally, someone filing an objection to a nominating petition has to live in the district in question, so the next day Farbman filed his motion seeking to dismiss Allen’s case on the grounds that “there is no such objector as Kara Allen registered to vote at 5431 N. Lakeview in the 14th Representative District, nor is there a street, avenue, or road by the name of Lakeview in that Representative District.”

Faberman’s Green Party allies can’t help laughing at the irony. “I wish I could have seen the look on Mike Kasper’s face when he read Jason’s petition,” says Weinberger. “I wish I could have been there when he realized they got the address wrong. They must have a hundred experts and lawyers with nothing better to do than use the intricacies of election law as a tool against independents–and they wrote the wrong address. It’s priceless.”

Kasper, who says he is indeed the gen-eral counsel for the state Democratic Party and a former Madigan staffer, says Allen doesn’t want to talk to reporters, and he won’t comment on the issue of her residency. “I don’t get into the specifics of a case,” he says. He does say that “she’s a voter in the district” who has “every legal right to file an objection. The law provides that in order to run you must submit petitions signed by a certain number of voters. This is a legitimate law. Why should Mr. Osterman, if that’s whom Ms. Allen supports, be required to spend money in a campaign against a candidate who’s not qualified?”

On July 19 Kasper filed a response to Farbman’s motion, arguing that Allen lives on Lakewood and not Lakeview. He wrote that Farbman’s “attack on [Allen’s] standing is presumably based upon the typographical error contained on Page 1 of the Objector’s Petition, which identifies [Allen’s] street as ‘Lakeview’ rather than ‘Lakewood.'”

Osterman has distanced himself from Allen’s objections. “She’s a family friend,” he says, but adds that he had nothing to do with her case against Farbman. “She probably told me about it, but I didn’t ask a lot of questions–that’s her business,” he says. “Do I support her efforts? Put it this way–I think the Democratic Party should have the ability to look at the petitions of other candidates.”

Farbman predicts the petition challenge will backfire. “I think I will stay on the ballot, because I know I have enough good signatures,” he says. “I think this is overkill by the Democrats. These tactics turn off the very people they’re supposed to be recruiting. They think they’re being so smart, when really they’re being dumb.”

As we went to press Farbman called and screamed, “We won!” After he calmed down he explained that at a Tuesday afternoon Board of Elections hearing Kasper announced that Allen was withdrawing her objection. To be continued.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Jon Randolph.