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Judge clears way for Chicago Heights mayoral vote

--by Becky Schlikerman, Southtown Star

The vote on who will be Chicago Heights' next mayor is scheduled to go on as planned tonight.

That's because a Cook County Circuit Judge Wednesday denied a request by a group of Chicago Heights ministers to prevent two city aldermen from voting to select the city's new mayor.

The Greater Chicago Heights Ministerial Alliance filed a lawsuit Tuesday seeking to avoid what they call a "conflict of interest" in the selection process to replace outgoing Mayor Anthony DeLuca, who is set to resign today.

The suit sought to remove Aldermen Willie White (1st) and Wanda Rodgers (3rd) from the council's vote to select a mayoral successor from among the aldermen because both work for the Chicago Heights Park District.

That's the same entity Ald. Alex Lopez (2nd) heads, and he's expected to be selected as DeLuca's replacement tonight.

The clergy members asked Judge Robert Bertucci Wednesday to issue an injunction preventing the council from selecting a new mayor until the lawsuit is decided because they said there's a conflict of interest in White and Rodgers voting for their boss.

But Holly Tomchey, the attorney representing the city in the case, argued Wednesday that the three have served on the council together for years, and any conflict could have been alleged in the past - but never has.

"There has never been a problem before," she said.

Bertucci rejected the ministers' request, saying how White and Rodgers would vote tonight is "the ultimate speculation."

The judge also pointed to the law books and said there's no statute that prevents White or Rodgers from voting.

Though the ministers didn't win in court, they aren't defeated, said the Rev. Anthony Pitts Sr., president of the alliance.

"We did make a strong statement," he said. "I think it says we expect and demand accountability."

He said there's no immediate plans to appeal the ruling.

For her part, Rodgers said she's pleased with the judge's decision.

"I'm glad that it was cleared up and there is no conflict, however I choose to vote," she said.

Lopez said he initially found the lawsuit "frustrating," but now considers it a "blessing in disguise" because there's been a clear, legal decision made.

"It gives you the confidence that now the two aldermen, who may have felt there is some conflict there, now they're made certain that there's not and they're free to cast their vote because the judge has ruled on it," he said.

White could not be reached for comment.

But not all the members of the city council agree with the court's decision.

Ald. Joseph Faso (4th) said he's disappointed, though there's not much that can be done now.

"We have to respect the judge's ruling, what are you going to do?" he said.

Now the plans proceed for DeLuca, who has been appointed to the state House of Representatives, to resign at tonight's city council meeting.

Once he does, the council will select from within a mayor to serve the remaining two years of DeLuca's term.

Lopez said he expects he'll be voted into the mayor's seat by his fellow aldermen.