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Emanuel allies use familiar ploy to crowd Quinn term-limit question off ballot

Former Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn has acknowledged he needs at least 100,000 signatures to survive an almost certain petition challenge by Emanuel's well-oiled, well-financed machine. | AP file photo

Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s City Council allies on Monday used a now-familiar political ploy to crowd off the Nov. 6 ballot former Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn’s long-shot, binding referendum to limit Chicago mayors to two terms and therefore force Emanuel into retirement.

Instead of being asked whether Chicago mayors should be limited to two terms, the Rules Committee agreed to ask voters three nonbinding questions:

  • In the event marijuana is legalized, should the city of Chicago appropriate revenue from the sale of marijuana to increase funding for Chicago Public Schools and mental health services?
  • Should the city of Chicago seek that the State of Illinois create a homeowners property tax exemption for families in municipalities of over 500,000 that have lived in their home for over 10 years and whose income is over $100,000?
  • Should the city of Chicago ban the use of plastic straws within the corporate limits?

The plastic straw referendum will be paired with a proposal by Ald. Edward Burke (14th) and Ald. Ray Lopez (15th) to ban plastic straws in Chicago.

The ordinance will be introduced at Wednesday’s City Council meeting, but not acted upon until the referendum results are in, Lopez said.

Since only three questions can be placed on the ballot, whether binding or nonbinding, Tuesday’s vote and final ratification by the full Council means there will be no room for Quinn’s term-limit question.

Rules Committee Chairman Michelle Harris (8th) was asked whether the advisory questions were a ploy to crowd Quinn’s binding term-limits question off the ballot.

“I’m not crowding out anybody. We do [this] every election cycle,” said Harris, one of Emanuel’s closest City Council allies.

“If the former governor wants to do this, I think he has a relationship with everybody sitting at the table, where he could talk to us if he really wanted us to push his agenda forward,” she said.

If Quinn really wanted to get his term-limits question on the ballot, Harris said, “he should have a conversation with us and talk with us as a body.”

Harris was asked again whether she was trying to help Emanuel remain in office.

“I’m not doing it to help anybody. I’m doing it ’cause people decided that these issues were important to them and they wanted them to be on this agenda,” Harris said.

The chairman added: “The former governor hasn’t had one conversation with me on what he wants to do or even if he wants to push it. He’s been working on this for two years. I don’t see why it’s any different today than it was yesterday.”

Quinn said it’s “regrettable” that Emanuel is “afraid” of a term limit referendum, but his ploy to crowd the binding question off the Nov. 6 ballot won’t work.

“The rule of three will not apply to a binding referendum that’s protected by the Illinois Constitution,” Quinn said Tuesday.

“You can’t use a city ordinance or a state law to nullify a constitutional right that is protected for the voters to make changes in their local government. I’ve been down this road before.”

An aide to the former governor said Quinn will ask to address the City Council on the issue at Wednesday’s meeting. That would require aldermen to suspend the rules.

Quinn first advanced the argument against the popular political ploy last month, arguing it would not work because binding referendum questions are in a separate category exempt from being crowded out.

The city’s Law Department argues otherwise, sources said.

Until Tuesday, the bigger hurdle for Quinn appeared to be the signature requirement needed to get the referendum on the Nov. 6 ballot.

The bare minimum is 52,519 signatures, or 8 percent of Chicagoans who voted in the last gubernatorial election.

Quinn has acknowledged he needs at least 100,000 signatures to survive an almost certain petition challenge by Emanuel’s well-oiled, well-financed machine.

It took Quinn two years to gather the first 50,000 signatures. He needs to duplicate that figure in just two months.

That’s a “tall order” — even for the populist politician who spearheaded the drive that reduced the size of the Illinois House. But he has argued that it’s worth it.

“It’s healthy to have fresh air. That’s really what this movement is. … Eight years is a long time. It’s time enough to make changes. But you shouldn’t be in office for an eternity,” Quinn told reporters last month. “I don’t think that’s healthy for the public, especially in this day and age … where incumbents oftentimes can amass huge amounts of money that dwarf the amount of money their opponents can have.”

Although Quinn and Emanuel clashed repeatedly over the years, the former governor has insisted the petition drive was not personal.

But that didn’t stop him from criticizing Emanuel for opposing an elected school board and withholding the Laquan McDonald shooting video until after the 2015 election.

Also at Tuesday’s Rules Committee meeting, aldermen welcomed and ratified Emanuel’s appointment of State Rep. Silvana Tabares, a close ally of Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, (D-Chicago), as the new alderman of the Southwest Side’s 23rd Ward.

Tabares replaces newly retired Ald. Mike Zalewski (23rd).