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Ald. Emma Mitts Denies Ballot Signatures Were Required To Get Free Thanksgiving Turkeys

CHICAGO (CBS) -- A West Side resident said an alderman's turkey giveaway came with a price.

The resident said the turkey was only provided in exchange for signatures to help two candidates get back on the ballot next year.

CBS 2 Political Investigator Dana Kozlov on Monday dug into whether anyone broke the law.

Ald. Emma Mitts (37th) handed out hundreds of ready-to-cook Thanksgiving birds for free at her annual turkey giveaway at McNair School of Excellence, 4820 W. Walton St., on Saturday.

But one 37th Ward resident said getting the turkey required a signature on petitions for both Mitts' and State's Attorney Kim Foxx's reelection bids.

"I was like, 'Is this mandatory?'" the resident said. "And he was like, 'Uh, yeah.'"

The resident said the "he" in that sentence was a volunteer at Mitts' event, overseeing the petition signing. The resident, who wanted us to disguise their identity, found the petition push upsetting.

"I still feel like I'm being pressured to sign a thing for a turkey," the resident said. "We don't have much over here. You understand what I'm saying? We don't have much."

Mitts fired back, "You have haters when you're doing good work."

Mitts denied the petition-signature-for-turkey quid pro quo, but did not deny that political petitions were present at her turkey giveaway.

"I don't think that anyone would be pressured to do anything," Mitts said. "I've been passing turkeys for 20 years, and when people don't want to sign, they don't sign."

But here's the catch. We have learned that if someone were required to sign a candidate's petition to get a free turkey or some other product, it wouldn't be illegal in Illinois.

That is according to Chicago Board of Elections spokesman Jim Allen, and it raises a different set of ethics questions.

"That's crazy that it's not illegal," the resident said.

However, Allen said it would be illegal for someone to give something of value in direct exchange for a vote or registering to vote.

Mitts was reelected as alderman last year. She said this petition is for her ward committeeman position.

There was no comment from her camp Monday night.

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