Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s campaign on Thursday questioned the legality of former Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn’s long-shot campaign to use a binding referendum limiting Chicago mayors to eight years to prevent Emanuel from seeking a third term.
The Emanuel camp noted that “many election lawyers” believe Quinn’s latest populist campaign would “not pass constitutional muster since its wording suggests that it’s directed at the current incumbent — not the office.”
And since mayoral candidates can start circulating petitions on Aug. 28, the mayor’s camp claims the 2019 election cycle will have already started long before the Nov. 6 election, when the binding referendum would be on the ballot.
“The voters set their own term limits. If anyone knows that, it’s Pat Quinn,” said Emanuel campaign spokesman Pete Giangreco.
Quinn strongly disagreed.
He noted that voters in 21 communities across the state have already used binding referendums to impose term limits on their mayors and that the issue has already passed legal muster.
Quinn advised Emanuel’s legal team to read the legal record of the term-limit case in suburban Broadview.
“The case went to the Supreme Court of Illinois, which upheld the referendum, and the incumbent mayor was not allowed to run in the 2017 election,” Quinn said.
Pointing to similar outcomes in Franklin Park and Country Club Hills, he said, “They can dream if they want, but this is something that the voters can do and can establish what the rules are.”
The bigger hurdle for Quinn is 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 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 it’s worth it, he said.
“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 said.
“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 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.
“Information that the voters should have received … did not go to the voters until well after the election … That was very bad for the city,” Quinn said.
“No election should take place if voters are denied very important information … I don’t think it speaks well of City Hall or the mayor that the Freedom of Information Act wasn’t quickly complied with. There’s no excuse.”
Also on Thursday, the man who replaced former Gov. Rod Blagojevich argued he does not deserve to have his 14-year sentence on federal corruption charges commuted to time served.
Quinn said he oversaw roughly 5,000 clemency cases as governor and “probably did more” of them than “any governor in Illinois history.”
“I always felt before granting clemency to anyone … there needed to be remorse and apology by that person … They have to apologize for their actions. Many folks who did get clemency were very regretful for what they did, and they did apologize,” Quinn said.
“I haven’t heard that from my predecessor. He hasn’t expressed any kind of remorse or apology to the people for matters that, in court and the judicial system, were determined to be crimes.”
Quinn also weighed in on the steady stream of sexual harassment allegations swirling around the once impenetrable political organization of Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan.
One day after Madigan forced out his longtime chief of staff Tim Mapes, Quinn urged the speaker to step down as head of the state Democratic Party.
“The speaker should not be the party chairman … It’s a conflict of interest … In order to truly organize the Democratic Party of Illinois, that person should not be an elected official who is a member of the Legislature. I don’t think that’s healthy,” Quinn said.