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Emanuel allies still can’t crowd airport question off ballot

Illinois law allows every employee who is entitled, after giving notice, to two hours off work, provided that the employee’s working hours begin less than two hours after the opening of the polls and end less than two hours before the closing of the polls. | Getty file photo

If you’re trying to pull a political fast one, it helps to be fast, slick and smooth.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s allies have been anything but that in their efforts to crowd off the ballot a referendum asking Chicago voters whether they want to strip the mayor of authority over O’Hare and Midway Airports.

The Keystone Kops routine continued Tuesday when the City Council’s Rules Committee tried to keep the airport question off the November ballot by instead adding an innocuous question about whether the city should “work with the federal government and the state to prioritize significant new investments in important infrastructure like roads, bridges, public transportation, river and lakefront redevelopment and additional green space.”

Since only three referenda can be placed on the ballot, adding that question would have guaranteed there’d be no room for the O’Hare/Midway question.

But, the mayor’s forces apparently under-estimated the level of opposition fueled by the Service Employees International Union Local 1, the powerful union behind the airport referendum that represents roughly 1,000 janitors and baggage handlers at O’Hare.

The Rules Committee vote was 7-to-7, meaning that the political ploy championed by mayoral allies was defeated. The “No” votes were cast by Sophia King (4th), Roderick Sawyer (6th), Susan Sadlowski-Garza (10th), David Moore (17th), Scott Waguespack (32nd), Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th) and Anthony Napolitano (41st).

Ald Patrick Daley Thompson (11th), nephew of former Mayor Richard M. Daley, walked out before the final vote.

“When we do this maneuvering, it hurts democracy,” Moore said before the final vote.

“The games have to stop. People are dying. People are homeless. People are jobless. They don’t trust because we can’t stand up and do the right things for them. I’m done with this. Of course everybody wants to fight for transportation and money. We’re doing it.”

Sawyer denounced what he called the “feel-good” referendum on infrastructure projects.

“Because we’re having the type of violence and lack of resources for education, there are a lot of other things we could place on the ballot to have a vibrant discussion on as opposed to this, which I would assume 99 percent of the people would vote in favor of,” he said.

Rules Committee Chairman Michelle Harris (8th) responded to the tie vote by calling a recess until 9:15 a.m. next Wednesday just prior to the full Council meeting. That’s when she hopes to call the roll again with more mayoral allies present.

Tuesday’s vote marks the latest stumble in efforts by Emanuel allies to use a familiar political ploy to keep controversial questions that might embarrass the mayor off the ballot.

The infrastructure question was the latest one floated after two other non-binding referenda were dropped like hot potatoes after interest groups objected.

A proposal to ask voters whether the city should create municipal identification cards that will expand access to city services for residents unable to access other former of identification was nixed amid concern that it would undermine efforts already underway to create a county-wide identification for undocumented immigrants unable to access other forms of identification.

And a follow-up proposal by Ald. Joe Moore (49th) to plug the gap with a question about whether Chicago should stop investing in corporations that produce fossil fuels bit the dust after Moore learned the city only invests in “short-term instruments like commercial paper.”

Napolitano (41st) supports the airport referendum to give his noise-weary residents a vehicle to unleash their anger about lives made miserable by O’Hare jet noise.

The rookie alderman said he’s learned a valuable political lesson after witnessing the last few weeks of maneuvering and stumbling by Emanuel’s allies.

“As a freshman alderman here, I think it is absolutely hysterical how this process works,” Napolitano said.

“When we first proposed this [airport question], I started looking at all of these [other] referendums coming out and I said, ‘This is a great idea. This is a great idea.’ I didn’t know how the process worked. And a couple of aldermen said, ‘Hey. This is to block what you guys are trying to do.’ And I said, `Oh, my God.’ This is like being in student government.”