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Quinn gets ‘very good news’ in mayoral term limits fight, but bout far from over

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

A preliminary analysis indicates former Gov. Pat Quinn and other supporters of a binding referendum to set term limits on Chicago mayors gathered more than enough valid signatures to place the question on the November ballot.

The Chicago Board of Election Commissioners reported Thursday that its line-by-line examination of petitions circulated by Quinn’s Take Charge Chicago group counted at least 54,995 valid signatures — exceeding the 52,533 minimum required by law.

Quinn’s group submitted a total of 87,355 signatures, but nearly 42,000 of the signatures were challenged on various grounds by objectors aligned with Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

A review by election board personnel restored 9,624 of the challenged signatures, putting the Quinn group over the top. Both sides could continue to dispute the signatures, but the advantage — on that question at least — is now squarely on Quinn’s side.


“It’s very good news for us,” Quinn said afterward in a basement hearing room at 69 W. Washington where he personally engaged in the hand-to-hand combat with Emanuel’s team to defend individual signatures.

Even if the signatures are upheld as sufficient, however, the referendum still faces serious legal hurdles, including whether the City Council already crowded the term limit question off the ballot by approving three advisory referenda for November.

Illinois law limits referenda to three per election, but Quinn argues a binding referendum submitted by voters takes precedent.

Also at issue is whether the Quinn group erred by submitting two referendum questions on one petition.

In addition to limiting Chicago mayor’s to two four-year terms (the office’s present occupant included), the petitions also seek to establish an elected city “Consumer Advocate for taxpayers and consumers.”

Lawyers for the mayor’s allies argue that a petition seeking a referendum can pose only one question.

An election board hearing officer is expected to rule on those issues next week.

No matter the hearing officer’s decision, the dispute is expected to land in the courts, where another issue is likely to be added: whether the term limitation can legally apply to Emanuel now that nominating petitions are already being circulated for the February municipal election.

With so much at stake, the matter is expected to reach the Illinois Supreme Court.

Quinn said Thursday his group likely has many more legitimate petition signatures than have so far been credited because they were ruled invalid on the basis of the individual not being registered at the address listed.

Because Quinn started gathering the petitions in 2016, many of the individual signers have moved and changed their voter registration. Election officials have promised to consult another database later, if necessary, to determine if the registered address was valid at the time.

That effort may now be moot based on the preliminary count.