I’m a fan of former Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn. A fan, at least, of his dedication to good government and civic reform. Quinn cut his political eye teeth as the crusading founder of the Citizens Utility Board. He’s an honest, rare bird in a state that has been dubbed the most corrupt in America.
But I can’t get on board his latest cause célèbre.
Quinn is resurrecting a mothballed cause. Two years ago, he launched a petition drive for a binding referendum that would limit the tenure of Chicago mayors to two terms. Then Quinn segued into a failing bid for Illinois attorney general.
Now he’s back, gearing up to get the referendum on the Nov. 6 ballot.
Eight years is long enough to run a city, he argues. Long-term incumbency gives elected officials an unfair advantage, helping them to amass power and campaign cash.
“I think it’s unfair the way campaign finance is working for these major offices, where the incumbent oftentimes will have $25 million, and those who aspire to the office will have far less, and it’s really not a fair competition,” Quinn said last week at a press conference.
He says he’s halfway to his goal of collecting 100,000 signatures. If his petitions pass muster and voters approve the referendum, Emanuel would be disqualified from running for a third term next February.
I’m all for term limits. Among America’s 10 largest cities, Chicago is the only one that does not limit its mayor to two terms, Quinn said.
“It’s not personal,” he told Sun-Times Columnist Michael Sneed. Of course, it is, and timed to take Emanuel out of the running instead of letting the voters decide.
Why Emanuel? Former Mayor Richard M. Daley served six terms; Quinn was busy elsewhere. Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan is the longest-serving legislative leader in the nation, serving, except for two years, in office and his leadership post since 1983.
Emanuel, the former White House chief of staff and Congressional power broker, epitomizes the political establishment. Quinn, the uber political rebel, never played well with the big boys.
At his announcement, Quinn could not resist taking a shot at Emanuel for his handling of the Laquan McDonald case.
Then there’s Paul Vallas, Quinn’s former running mate. That’s the same Paul Vallas who immediately pledged to aid Quinn’s latest “movement.” The same Paul Vallas who served as Daley’s Chicago Public Schools CEO. The same Paul Vallas who is in the hunt for Emanuel’s job.
“I completely support Pat Quinn’s initiative — and I support term limits whether it impacts this election or not, as this is not about Emanuel,” the mayoral candidate told Sneed.
Given Vallas’ tepid campaign showing so far, he might find a more fruitful way to spend his time.
Emanuel faces an army of at least nine challengers. That vigorous and potent opposition shows he is deeply vulnerable.
Quinn has always been a “Big D” Democrat — Democracy first. His lifelong adage: “Everybody in, nobody left out.” Quinn has spent a career demanding that the people speak.
The mayoral election is nine months away. Chicago is at a crossroads. This referendum would deprive voters of a critical choice at a pivotal time.
Don’t game the system. Emanuel can be beaten. Just do it.
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