Naperville mayor chastises councilwoman over election flyer, failing to disclose funding

Naperville Forward campaign mailer
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Naperville Mayor Steve Chirico chastised city councilwoman Theresa Sullivan during Tuesday’s Naperville City Council meeting, claiming she had violated both the conduct code for council members and lacked transparency at disclosing a campaign contribution.

Naperville Forward mailer

The initial dispute centered around a campaign mailer created by Naperville Forward, a political action committee (PAC) led by Sullivan. The flyer claimed that some candidates in the upcoming election support book bans, and plan to put forth “a fanatical agenda” if elected. No specific candidate names were mentioned.

During the council meeting, Mayor Chirico called the flyer “dirty politics” and said it created a cloud over the dais.

“It’s a bad reflection on all of us,” said Chirico. “It’s a bad reflection on our city. Don’t belong in Naperville or any local election.”

Chirico said as Sullivan’s conduct with her role in the flyer violated the ethics code laid out for the city’s elected officials, it justified a censure. However, as both he and Sullivan are not seeking re-election and only have a handful of meetings left, the mayor thought it would be “unproductive and moot” to go that route.

Sullivan rebutted the statements from Chirico, and said the issue “doesn’t belong (at council).”

“If the city attorney thinks I’ve broken any rules, or the state of Illinois does, I’d like them to come talk to me,” said Sullivan. “And if anyone wants to talk to me about Naperville Forward, you know where to reach me.”

Sullivan commented on the three election candidates who called out the Naperville Forward flyer during public forum.

“Not one person was called out in these mailers,” said Sullivan. “The people who got up here tonight to say it was partisan and it was against them, I question that if that’s how you took it, then that’s on you.”

Revised code of conduct 

Last June, city council approved an ordinance revising Naperville’s code of conduct for all board and commission members to avoid political battles in public and on social media.

The municipal code requires members of council or advisory boards to refrain from words or actions that compromise the city’s reputation and integrity.

“We had a few members of boards and commissions, who in our view, were saying things on social media and out in the public that were inappropriate and reflected poorly on our city,” said Chirico.

Failing to acknowledge union donations

Later in the meeting, Mayor Chirico accused Sullivan of failing to notify council about union donations Naperville Forward received, before she voted with the 7-2 majority on a responsible bidders ordinance (RBO).

In December of 2020, council voted to require council members publicly disclose campaign donations of $750 or more when voting on a topic where it would be relevant, or could influence their vote. The measure passed with a narrow 5-4 majority.

According to the state election board, Naperville Forward received $5,000 from the Chicago Laborers’ District Council PAC of the Laborers’ International Union of North America.

Before the vote on the RBO, Councilman Benny White announced he had received donations from unions above the $750 threshold. Chirico called Sullivan out at the end of Tuesday’s meeting for not doing the same. 

“You received a substantial check and it was not disclosed,” said Chirico. “And then you voted on the matter.”

Sullivan denied the allegations about violating the campaign donations portion of the ethics ordinance. She admitted Naperville Forward received $5,000 from the labor union, but said it did not impact her vote.

“I’m not running for office,” said Sullivan. “Nothing was broken from our ethics ordinance. You can’t just get up here and lob these accusations at me without saying anything to me beforehand.”

Suggestion to revisit the campaign disclosure agreement

The mayor took this opportunity to suggest that the campaign disclosure agreement be revisited at the April 5 Naperville City Council meeting. Chirico voted against the ordinance in 2020, and said he considers it to be “unethical.” Chirico said Democrats outraise Republicans in Illinois 9-1, giving an advantage to one party over another.

“I hope you all will see what this has done, what it has done to our local elections,” said Chirico. “It’s pretty outrageous.”

Sullivan closed her remarks with a final statement to the mayor.

“I respect your parliamentarianism,” said Sullivan. “I wish you would have respected me enough to call me and give me a heads up before sabotaging me twice tonight.”

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