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Just as there’s no crying in baseball, there’s no mercy in politics, particularly if a candidate leads with his chin.

Take the case of Champaign lawyer A.J. Ruggieri. Not only is he running for the state Senate as a Republican in a district gerrymandered to elect a Democrat, he also got a late start in his campaign.

No Republican filed in December to take on incumbent Democrat Scott Bennett. So Ruggieri’s name was recently added to the ballot by local Republicans.

Although a candidate, Ruggieri’s campaign effort has been stopped stone cold because he’s on duty with the Illinois National Guard for an unspecified period of time and barred from campaigning in a district made up of portions of Champaign and Vermilion counties.

Now, however, there’s doubt that Ruggieri’s name will even be on the ballot.

Democrats filed a June 8 challenge to Ruggieri’s petitions that alleges they do not contain a legally sufficient number of voter signatures to qualify him for a ballot spot.

Represented by Chicago lawyer Luke Casson, Vermilion County Democratic Party Chairwoman Germaine Light contends that Ruggieri’s petitions have “less than the 1,000 qualified signatures, in violation of the Illinois Election Code.”

The GOP all but invited the challenge by submitting Ruggieri petitions that contain 1,182 signatures, an indefensibly low number given both political parties’ practice of challenging petitions as a means of winning an election before a vote is cast.

Democrats, who are characterizing more than 300 of the signatures as invalid, need to get only 183 of them invalidated to put Ruggieri below the 1,000 required and therefor knock him off the November ballot.

Ruggieri, unsurprisingly, declined to comment on what is potentially a monumental foul-up.

“I can’t say anything for fear of getting in trouble with the National Guard,” he said.

Matt Dietrich, a spokesman for the State Board of Elections, said candidates usually file petitions with “significantly higher signatures than what is required” for the purpose of discouraging challenges from the rival party.

He said the elections board will hold a hearing Friday to consider the validity of Ruggieri’s petition.

“A ruling on this will come at the (board’s) July 20 meeting, unless the board holds a special meeting,” he said.

The June 8 challenge filed by Light, an unsuccessful 2018 Democratic candidate for the Vermilion County Board, alleges a variety of signature problems. They include charges that some signers do not live in the 52nd Illinois Senate District; some voted in the March 2020 Democratic Party primary, making them ineligible to sign a GOP candidate petition; and some gave incomplete addresses or false signatures.

Bennett defended the challenge, stating they are necessary to ensure all candidates “follow the same rules” to qualify for a ballot spot.

While the state elections board set a Friday hearing for the Ruggieri/Bennett petition challenge, it discussed but ultimately took no action on the political battle between Democratic state Rep. Carol Ammons and Maryam Ar-Raheem over which one is the chairwoman of the Champaign County Democratic Party.

They have been battling since mid-April over who is the duly elected chairwoman, although Ammons is acting forcefully as party boss while Ar-Raheem has maintained low public profile.

“Anybody can claim the chair, but you can’t be a leader if people won’t follow,” said Bennett. “In this case, Ammons has the numbers.”

Both Ammons and Ar-Raheem, the incumbent chairwoman she challenged, claim to be the local party leader and are presiding over separate executive committees.

Ammons contends that the real party treasurer is Wayne Williams, while Ar-Raheem insists it’s Deloris Henry.

Ammons filed a complaint with the elections board objecting to a treasurer’s report filed by Henry. Her complaint, discussed behind closed doors by the eight-member elections board, alleged that Henry submitted a report that falsely asserted herself as treasurer.

After discussing the matter privately, the board voted 7-1 not to take action on the complaint because it has no jurisdiction to address the intra-party squabbles.

“That is up to the party to decide,” Dietrich said.

Ammons recently tried to use her legislative position to move the issue forward. She proposed a change in election law that would have allowed local Democrats to hold a third meeting on the chairwoman issue and vote on the matter. However, her proposal did not survive the legislative process.

Jim Dey, a member of The News-Gazette staff, can be reached at jdey@news-gazette.com or 217-351-5369.