Former governor Quinn revives campaign to limit Chicago mayors to two terms in office

Quinn plans to spend the summer deciding whether to join the crowded field of candidates challenging Lightfoot. But he said that’s not why he’s pushing term limits now; he said just wants to hold Lightfoot to her own campaign promise.

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Former governor Pat Quinn arrives at City Hall in August 2018 with more than 86,000 signatures backing a referendum on term limits for Chicago mayors.

Former governor Pat Quinn is shown in 2018, arriving at City Hall with more than 86,000 signatures backing a referendum on term limits for Chicago mayors.

Fran Spielman/Sun-Times

Former Illinois governor Pat Quinn said Monday he plans to introduce a citizen’s ordinance this week to get a binding referendum on the November or February ballot imposing a two-term limit on Chicago mayors.

Armed with a poll showing Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s public approval rating at 25.8%, Quinn plans to spend the summer deciding whether to join the crowded field of candidates seeking to force Lightfoot into a political retirement after a single term.

But he said that’s not why he’s reprising the failed drive he waged four years ago to limit Chicago mayors to two terms.

“I was for recall long before I became governor of Illinois,” Quinn told the Sun-Times.

“And when I got to be governor, I said we’re gonna get recall after George Ryan and Rod Blagojevich were both in jail at the same time. And we got it on the ballot in 2010. It was about 30 years after I first came out for it. I don’t give up. And I don’t think this should be given up.”

Quinn noted Lightfoot campaigned for mayor on a promise to serve only two-terms.

In fact, the video she released last week launching her re-election campaign included the headline, “Lori Lightfoot Wants to Curb Chicago Corruption with Term Limits.”

“When somebody is running for re-election and putting their name out there as if they’re a term-limit advocate and then, they do nothing for almost their whole term, they oughta be called out for it. To me, that’s what accountability is,” Quinn said.

In 2018, shortly before then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel pulled the plug on his re-election campaign, the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners had issued a preliminary ruling that Quinn had gathered more than enough signatures to get a term limit question on the ballot.

But the election board subsequently ruled Quinn’s referendum had been crowded out by three non-binding questions approved by the City Council. Quinn was in the process of appealing that ruling when a judge tossed out his lawsuit on a technicality.

Chicago mayors and their City Council allies have a long history of using the three-referenda-per-election limit to their advantage. They routinely put innocuous referenda on the ballot to crowd out more controversial questions.

“Why do we accept that?” Quinn asked Monday.

“First of all, it’s in the Illinois Constitution that we have this right. And then, we’re gonna allow insiders who don’t want term limits to just try and use cynical Machine tactics to deny people what they want?”

Quinn said in his poll, 68.1% percent of those questioned want term limits, as do “an overwhelming majority of every ethnic group.”

He added: “A lot of folks feel that it’s the number one way to get campaign finance reform.”

On Monday, Quinn was asked whether his second try at mayoral term limits was a prelude to a mayoral campaign.

“It’s a postlude to making sure that something that was promised is kept. ... This is a mission that still needs to be accomplished,” the former governor said.

The poll of 614 Chicago voters was conducted for Quinn on May 23-24 by Blueprint Polling. It showed nothing that would discourage the former governor from entering the crowded mayoral field.

Of those polled, 25.8% said Lightfoot deserves to be re-elected; 57.1% said she does not, with 17% undecided.

“I supported her in the runoff. I went to a rally and spoke for her. Gave her a campaign contribution and put a sign in my yard. I presumed, based on her own statements, that she was gonna fight for term limits on the mayor,” Quinn said.

Instead, “this mayor, as far as term limits go, has done nothing.”

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