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Friday, March 15, 2013

2nd District run could cost candidate his job

Updated: March 15, 2013 2:13AM

Marcus Lewis, an independent candidate for Jesse Jackson Jr.’s former congressional seat, faces dismissal from his job under the Hatch Act, a federal law that forbids certain political activities by federal employees.

Lewis, of Matteson, is a Postal Service employee and has repeatedly boasted of that during his campaign, claiming he’s just a common working man, not a politician.

Postal Service employees are included under the Hatch Act, which prohibits federal employees from running for nomination or election to a partisan political office and is also intended to protect them against political retaliation.

Lewis could end the legal action taken by the U.S. Office of Special Counsel by ending his campaign but has refused. He said he’s being persecuted because political rivals know he received about 40,000 votes when he ran against Jackson in the Nov. 6 general election — more than Democrat Robin Kelly got in winning the Feb. 26 special primary election.

Lewis was warned by the Office of Special Counsel in September that his candidacy violated the federal law. His attorney, Andrew Finko, responded that the Hatch Act violates “fundamental equal protection and First Amendment rights of federal employees” and noted that a 1993 exemption applies to certain federal employees in the District of Columbia, Virginia and Maryland who run as independent candidates.

Lewis contends that the law specifically refers to a candidate of a political party and that as an independent, he is not a member of any party. Finko also argues that the complaint against Lewis failed to name the person making the complaint and was not properly mailed to Lewis.

Lewis said his appeal of the issues was awaiting a ruling when he filed his candidacy for the April 9 special election. On Dec. 4, his postal supervisor notified him in writing that his candidacy was a violation of the Hatch Act and ordered him to “cease and desist.”

“I was like one of those people on the Titanic who sees a space in a lifeboat and decides to take it,” Lewis said, regarding the apparent loophole for independent candidates in Washington, D.C. “I couldn’t wait for a decision because if the decision was in my favor and I hadn’t filed, it would be too late to run.”

Lewis said he hopes the controversy over his candidacy “might get me a few more votes. I’m running as ‘Mr. Lewis goes to Washington,’ just like Mr. Smith went to Washington, and this shows that the people in power don’t want ordinary citizens running for office. I figure people will identify with that and vote for me.”

As for losing his job, “if I win the election it won’t matter,” Lewis said. “If I’m a congressman, all of this will go away. That’s the way the system works.”

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