Mayoral allies move to put 3 advisory referendums on Feb. 28 ballot

Chicago mayors and their City Council allies routinely put innocuous referendums on the ballot to keep off more controversial questions.

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Mayor Lori Lightfoot presides over a Chicago City Council meeting at City Hall, Monday morning, Nov. 7, 2022.

Three of Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s allies on the Chicago City Council, shown at Monday’s meeting, have introduced referendums that, if placed on the Feb. 28 ballot, would crowd off two questions proposed by former Gov. Pat Quinn.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times file

Three of Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s closest City Council allies have introduced advisory referendums — on the Commonwealth Edison bribery scandal, a proposed assault weapons ban and homelessness — that would crowd off the Feb. 28 ballot two questions proposed by former Gov. Pat Quinn.

Chicago mayors and their City Council allies have a long history of using the three-referendums-per-election limit to their advantage.

They routinely put innocuous referendums on the ballot, so that other, more controversial questions are kept off the ballot — questions that risk bolstering turnout from already ornery voters who might vent their anger against incumbents.

The same things happened Monday.

With attention focused on Lightfoot’s $16.4 billion budget, Finance Chairman Scott Waguespack (32nd), departing Health and Environmental Protection Committee Chair George Cardenas (12th), Lightfoot’s deputy floor leader, and retiring Ald. Jim Cappleman (46th) introduced three advisory questions:

• Should the City of Chicago decline to approve the utility franchise agreement with Commonwealth Edison unless and until it refunds Chicago ratepayers for profits collected under legislation ComEd obtained through its publicly admitted legislative bribery scheme, which started in 2011?

• Should Congress reinstate and strengthen the 1994 assault weapons ban to end the nonmilitary manufacture and sale of assault weapons and high-capacity magazines?

• Should the federal government, State of Illinois and City of Chicago declare the lack of shelter and housing for people experiencing homelessness a public health crisis and work collaboratively to secure funding to reduce chronic homelessness in Chicago by 30% by Dec. 31, 2025?

If all three advisory questions are placed on the ballot by the Nov. 28 deadline, there would be no room for two questions proposed by former Gov. Pat Quinn.

One of Quinn’s proposed referendums, if approved, would prohibit the sale of naming rights to Soldier Field or adding a corporate name to the stadium.

The other would be a binding referendum imposing a two-term limit on Chicago mayors.

Quinn could not be reached for comment. In June, he challenged the City Council  to “listen to the voters” and put both questions on the ballot.

“People do want a chance to vote on whether the mayor should have a two-term limit. Same way on whether or not Soldier Field’s name will be protected from corporate encroachment. These are vital issues that people pay attention to and care about,” Quinn said then.

“I would think any alderman worth his or her salt would vote ‘yes’ to put ’em both on. … They had no problem putting plastic straws on last time. This is a much higher [priority] and more important issue. … We really have to honor those who raise their hand and say, ‘Take me’ when it comes to volunteering for our military.”

Cardenas said he introduced the assault weapons question because violent crime is the No. 1 issue with voters.

“It was a busy day. Honest to God. Quinn was not on my mind. I swear to you. It was not. If it does that, it’s a byproduct of just the Council [being] so busy. Honest to God,” Cardenas told the Sun-Times.

“We should be talking about these issues with crimes being rampant. We need to be talking about crime, crime, crime from here until the cows come home.”

Waguespack said he introduced the ComEd question — after consulting with Quinn, who spearheaded the drive to create the Citizens Utility Board — to give voters a chance to weigh in on the bribery scandal swirling around indicted former Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan. The utility agreed to cooperate with the federal investigation and pay $200 million fine.

Former ComEd CEO Anne Pramaggiore and former ComEd lobbyists John Hooker and Jay Doherty, former president of the City Club of Chicago, have all been charged with participating in a scheme designed to curry favor with Madigan in exchange for his support for legislation benefitting the utility.

Illinois regulators ordered ComEd to refund $38 million to ratepayers because of the federal bribery scandal. But that’s not enough to satisfy Waguespack.

“Chicagoans kind of bear the brunt of a lot of that corruption that Madigan allegedly committed. ... And then, with this AT&T [bribery] issue coming out, we felt there should be a stronger voice from the public about compensation and how much they should be held accountable. That’s where Quinn and I were coming from,” Waguespack said.

Cappleman could not be reached for comment on the referendum he proposed.

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