If Mayor Rahm Emanuel is the least bit concerned about former Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn’s long-shot term-limits campaign, he has a funny way of showing it –– literally.

Emanuel busted out laughing Wednesday when asked for the first time to comment about Quinn’s attempt to get a binding referendum on the Nov. 6 ballot limiting Chicago mayors to eight years that would prevent him from seeking a third term.

“Amy’s trying to figure out how to sign it,” the mayor said, referring to his wife, Amy Rule.

“Right now, I think Amy would like to sign the petition. That’s all I’m gonna say.”

Chicago's first lady, Amy Rule. | Sun-Times files

Chicago’s first lady, Amy Rule. | Sun-Times files

Although the mayor was laughing, Emanuel was asked if there was at least an element of seriousness behind the sarcasm. Is his wife, even a little bit tired of the demands of political life and fed up with the political abuse her husband is taking from the crowded field of nine challengers?

“Take it for what I just said,” said the mayor, who celebrated his 24th wedding anniversary last week.

“I’m just trying to stop Amy from signing it. That’s it.”

The Emanuel camp has questioned the legality of Quinn’s binding referendum limiting Chicago mayors to two terms.

The Emanuel camp noted that “many election lawyers” believe Quinn’s latest populist campaign would “not pass constitutional muster since its wording suggests that it’s directed at the current incumbent — not the office.”

And since mayoral candidates can start circulating petitions on Aug. 28, the mayor’s camp claims the 2019 election cycle will have already started long before the Nov. 6 election, when the binding referendum would be on the ballot.

That means the election cycle would be well under way. Voters will have signed candidate petitions. Legally, the argument could be made that those voters cannot be disenfranchised.

Quinn has argued that all of those questions have already been litigated in his favor in suburban cases that have been upheld by the Illinois Supreme Court.

His bigger hurdle is the signature requirement needed to get the referendum on the Nov. 6 ballot.

The bare minimum is 52,519 signatures, or 8 percent of Chicagoans who voted in the last gubernatorial election.
Quinn acknowledged he needs at least 100,000 signatures to survive an almost certain petition challenge by Emanuel’s well-oiled, well-financed machine.

It took Quinn two years to gather the first 50,000 signatures. He needs to duplicate that figure in just two months.

That’s a “tall order” — even for the populist politician who spearheaded the drive that reduced the size of the Illinois House.

Emanuel didn’t want to get into any of that.

“I’m not doing it,” the mayor said when asked if he thinks Quinn has a chance of succeeding, with an assist from his former running mate-turned mayoral challenger Paul Vallas.

Although Quinn and Emanuel clashed repeatedly over the years, the former governor has insisted that the petition drive was not personal.

But that didn’t stop him from criticizing Emanuel for opposing an elected school board and withholding the Laquan McDonald shooting video until after the 2015 election.

Asked to comment on Quinn’s broadside, Emanuel stuck to his scripted talking points.

“I’m not going to. I’m not creating a side-track discussion. You have my one answer to your question. I’m trying to prevent Amy from signing that petition,” he said.