The Men Who Would Be Mayor Of Ladd, Ill.
BALLOT BATTLE ROYAL
WHEN Paul Bazydlo ran for mayor of Ladd, Ill., last year, his fledgling campaign slogan was, ``Get to the Point With Paul.'' Mr. Bazydlo says now with mild frustration, it should have been, ``What Is the Point, Paul?''
He and the incumbent mayor, Harry Volant, are still locked in a legal battle more than one year later over who should be mayor. Mr. Volant won by a single vote on election night.
``But the night of the election,'' Bazydlo says in a phone interview, ``people said I should ask for a discovery recount of the ballots because I owed it to the people that voted for me.''
Surprise. The recount ended in a tie.
But there were 28 uninitialed absentee ballots, and a few ballots inserted upside down in the voting machine. A circuit court judge said the uninitialed ballots, most for Volant, were invalid. On the recount Bazydlo was the winner, 341 to 320. By law all ballots in Illinois have to be initialed by an election judge.
This green and peaceful former mining town of 1,300 about 100 miles southwest of Chicago thought it had a new mayor.
But hours after Bazydlo was sworn in by the town clerk, Mr. Volant - Ladd's mayor for a whopping 32 years - filed an appeal. The three-judge appeals court told everybody to hold their horses. Volant is the real mayor, they said, because the ballots are OK, and if the matter is questioned further, Volant is mayor until the matter is settled. Bazydlo had tasted mayoralty glory for only a few hours.
``I'm the mayor,'' says Volant in a phone interview, ``but the question my opponent is raising is whether or not the uninitialed ballots are legal. All three judges in the appellate court ruled in my favor.''
Bazydlo has filed an appeal with Illinois Supreme Court in Springfield.
``It'll probably be another three or four weeks before I know if the court will accept the case,'' says Bazydlo. ``The law says that all ballots have to be initialed, by an election judge, and these ballots were not initialed.''
Why were the ballots uninitialed? ``Probably sloppy handling, and it shouldn't be that way,'' says Bazydlo, who is part owner of a construction company in Ladd and sits on the city council. ``We counted ballots from the other side of town and there were no problems.''
``If I knew this was going to be such a hassle,'' he says, ``I probably wouldn't have run for mayor because neither Harry or I need this. I've spent a lot of money so far, but I'm learning a lot about politics.''
Ladd has an annual budget of around $1 million, and the mayor's salary is a modest $1,800 a year.
Volant says Bazydlo should have been more patient, that he, Volant, was going to retire after this term.
``I'll be 70 this year,'' he says, ``so it's time to step down and let someone else be mayor. But Bazydlo didn't want to wait. In 32 years I've only had opposition twice before.''
Bazydlo says he was never sure if Volant was going to run again.
``At one time he said he wasn't going to run,'' says Basydlo, ``so I decided to run and he ran too. I figured I'd get beat, but I went door-to-door and campaigned hard enough to spark a lot of interest.''
Because the legal wrangling has gone on for almost a year and a half, the town has moved from election night partisanship to curiosity to expecting the whole incident to pass into town lore and become a story to tell at town picnics.
``We're getting used to it,'' says the owner of a restaurant in Ladd. ``I know both guys and they're both good guys. We don't really choose up sides here; we just vote, and it goes one way or the other.''
Both candidates are ready for a solution too. ``If the court decides against me,'' says Volant, ``that's it for me. I'm not going to bother with it anymore.''
Bazydlo is equally sanguine. ``I'm learning a lot about the courts,'' he says, ``but I guess everybody gets a fair shake after all is said and done. But it's sure costing me a lot of money.''