Former Illinois governor Pat Quinn on Monday filed 86,481 signatures — 33,962 above the legal requirement — to get a binding referendum on the Nov. 6 ballot that could force Mayor Rahm Emanuel into retirement by limiting Chicago mayors to two terms.
Quinn arrived at City Hall shortly after 4 p.m. and wheeled a dolly filled with petitions into the city clerk’s office amid a circus-like atmosphere.
One woman, clearly enjoying her moment in the sun, gleefully chanted: “Hey, hey. Ho Ho. Rahm Emanuel must go” as she held an iPad to record the festivities.
The time stamp was officially applied to the top sheet of the petitions at 4:13 p.m. after Quinn’s assistants struggled to remove the lock that held the massive pile in place.
The former governor, a master of publicity and champion of populist causes, breathed a sigh of relief for an effort years in the making.
Quinn urged Emanuel and his “henchmen” to resist the temptation to pore over the signatures in an attempt to find enough bad ones to force him under the 52,519-signature requirement or to challenge the referendum in court on grounds the ballot is already filled with three advisory questions.
“We’re way above the signature requirement despite their efforts with the three advisory questions to discourage petition passers and signers and undermine the process. It didn’t work,” Quinn said Monday, the deadline for filing the petitions.
“If the mayor doesn’t agree with our proposal, he should go out and tell people why instead of trying to use henchmen to keep the voters from having a chance to vote on this issue. The biggest cities in America … have voted on this. Why should Chicago voters be denied that opportunity? Why should the mayor be immune from a fundamental right in Illinois that 25 cities have already voted on? Let the people speak.”
The Emanuel campaign refused to tip its hand on its legal or political strategy now that Quinn has far exceeded the signature requirement.
Ald. Pat O’Connor (40th), the mayor’s City Council floor leader, was unimpressed with the 86,481 signatures gathered by Quinn’s petition passers.
“If he were trying to get himself on the ballot, he would not be filing enough petitions,” O’Connor said.
“Usually, you need to file a minimum of two, but realistically speaking three times the required signature amount to make sure that you withstand a challenge. If nothing else, it shows he’s coming up short so far.”
A mayoral confidant, who asked to remain anonymous, argued that Quinn’s binding referendum “doesn’t impact this mayor,” so Emanuel doesn’t need a legal strategy.
“After losing two elections in a row, Pat Quinn’s quest for relevance has reached a new low,” the Emanuel confidant said.
“Why doesn’t he just announce he’s running for mayor and get it over with already?”
On June 27, the City Council ignored a personal plea and political warning from Quinn and placed three non-binding questions on the Nov. 6 ballot to crowd out Quinn’s binding term limits question.
Quinn argued again Monday that the crowding-out strategy won’t work. Binding referendums are in a separate category and, therefore, not subject to the three-question limit, he said, contradicting the city’s Law Department.
The former governor also shot down the Emanuel campaign’s argument that election season in Chicago will be underway — with mayoral candidates already gathering signatures — by the time the binding referendum is held on Nov. 6.
“That’s been addressed by the Illinois Supreme Court in Broadview, where the court held that petition passing during the course of 2016 [didn’t matter]. It was put on the ballot. Voters voted on it. The incumbent mayor challenged it, saying the season had begun and the court just threw that out. That’s never gonna work,” Quinn said.
“They’re barking up the wrong tree if they try that. They’re only gonna harm themselves because the voters will know they’re not at all sincere about anything other than trying to keep the referendum off the ballot. I don’t think that’s popular at all. The effort to keep it off the ballot by the mayor or his henchmen is ill-advised. They’re really insulting the voters of Chicago.”
Instead of going to court, Quinn urged Emanuel to challenge the term-limit referendum on its merits.
If he does not agree with the idea of limiting Chicago mayors to two terms and eight years in office, he should tell voters why and try to persuade a majority of them to defeat the binding question, Quinn said.
That could be a tall order.
Late Monday, Emanuel campaign spokesperson Caron Brookens responded to the Quinn filing.
“There is a process to get a question on the ballot. Now that Pat Quinn has filed his petition, the process will play out,” Brookens wrote in an email.
No fewer than 75 percent of the 600 likely Chicago voters surveyed July 7-to-9 favored limiting Chicago mayors to two terms, according to a poll paid for by Quinn’s non-profit corporation, Take Charge Chicago.
Quinn and Emanuel clashed repeatedly on a host of issues during Quinn’s tenure as governor.
But Quinn insisted again Monday that the term-limit referendum is “not personal.”
Quinn talked with reporters about the petition drive in July, 2018