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Ignoring Quinn appeal, City Council crowds term-limits question off the ballot

Then-Gov. Pat Quinn and Mayor Rahm Emanuel attend an Obama speech in 2014. Quinn wants to pass a referendum that would keep the mayor from a third term. | Sun-Times file photo

The City Council on Wednesday ignored a personal plea and political warning from former Illinois Governor Pat Quinn and crowded off the Nov. 6 ballot Quinn’s binding term limits question tailor-made to force Mayor Rahm Emanuel into retirement.

“How are you going to be perceived by your voters in your wards? Are they gonna actually see you as sincerely supporting something or trying to stop something?” Quinn asked aldermen during the public participation session that preceded Wednesday’s Council meeting.

“The issue of term limits on the mayor, admittedly, is a controversial one. The mayor is terrified of this referendum. We all know that. And they’re doing everything they can to keep it off the ballot. We’re not gonna let them do that. We have to assert our fundamental constitutional right to pass petitions, gather signatures and put a binding referendum on the November ballot.”

While Quinn delivered his lecture, Emanuel was standing on the rostrum talking to an alderman and trying his best to ignore his political nemesis. The two men clashed repeatedly on a host of issues during Quinn’s tenure as governor.

Asked later what he’s afraid of and why he won’t allow Chicago voters to decide whether their mayor should be limited to two terms, Emanuel ignored the question and turned the tables on Quinn.

“The former governor has been getting signatures for a while. He’s not ready. These referendums are ready,” the mayor said.

Emanuel’s communications director Adam Collins said it’s “laughable” for Quinn to complain that he’s being crowded off a ballot when he’s “barely halfway there after two years” of collecting signatures.

“It’s the kind of stunt we’ve seen from him for years, and all that’s missing is Pat Quinn’s old soap box and ironing board,” Collins wrote in an email.

Instead of being asked the binding question of whether Chicago mayors should be limited to two terms, voters will be asked three purely advisory 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 ask the State of Illinois to create a homeowners property tax exemption for families in municipalities of over 500,000 who have lived in their homes for more than 10 years and whose income is under $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.

Since only three questions can be placed on the ballot, whether binding or nonbinding, Wednesday’s vote could mean there will be no room for Quinn’s term-limit question.

But not according to the former governor.

“Our Supreme Court, in interpreting the initiative power, said that this is a state-created, fundamental right of the people. It cannot be abridged by ordinance or by legislative restriction,” Quinn said.

Quinn noted that, of the nation’s 10 largest cities, Chicago stands alone without term limits on its mayor. Twenty-five cities across the state have used binding referendum questions to impose mayoral term limits, he said.

The former governor warned aldermen that, by doing the mayor’s bidding, they were violating a right “protected by the Illinois Supreme Court” and affirmed by four appellate court rulings.

Until Wednesday, 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.

Also on Wednesday, 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. After a standing ovations, she was sworn in by former Chicago-alderman-turned-Cook County Judge Tom Allen. After the rules were suspended to let her speak, Tabares thanked the mayor for the appointment and applauded Zalewski for his service.

“I have big shoes to fill,” she said.