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Pat Quinn touts poll showing 59 percent support for mayoral term limits

Former Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn

Former Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn. | Fran Spielman/Sun-Times

With 70,000 signatures already and 13 days to gather more, former Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn on Tuesday brandished a new poll to bolster his case for a binding referendum that would force Mayor Rahm Emanuel into retirement by limiting Chicago mayors to eight years.

The survey of 600 likely Chicago voters was conducted July 7-9 by Public Policy Polling of Raleigh, N.C. and paid for by Quinn’s non-profit corporation, Take Charge Chicago.

According to Quinn, it showed that 59 percent of voters surveyed favored a two-term limit for Chicago’s mayor and would vote to impose that limit if the binding referendum appears on the Nov. 6 ballot.

Last month 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.

Told that Emanuel favors three advisory questions asking, among other things, whether plastic straws should be abolished in Chicago, 75 percent of those surveyed said Chicago voters should have the right to vote on Quinn’s binding term-limits referendum.

On Tuesday, Quinn stood outside the mayor’s office to needle Emanuel, with whom he clashed repeatedly during his tenure as governor.

He bragged about the more than 70,000 signatures he has already gathered — well over the 52,519 he needs to get on the ballot — and about the 30,000 additional signatures he hopes to secure by the Aug. 6 deadline.

The former governor also ridiculed the mayor for being so “scared to death” of term limits that he is willing to violate the “fundamental Constitutional right”—already upheld by the Illinois Supreme Court — to pass petitions and put referendums, including binding questions, on the ballot.

“To see City Hall here trying to snuff out that right for the millions of people who live in my city, the city of Chicago, is just plain wrong. And we’re not gonna let him get away with it. We’ll take him to court if they try to stop our referendum on their maneuvers,” Quinn said.

Given the angry mood of the electorate in Chicago and around the nation, the only surprising thing about the poll is that the vote in favor of term-limits wasn’t even more lopsided.

“The poll shows very clearly that the voters want to vote on this issue. Let the people speak,” Quinn said.

“If he believes a two-term limit on the mayor of Chicago is not the right way to go, tell the people why. It’s good enough for the President. It ought to be good enough for Rahm. He ignores that. Instead, he attacks our right to be on the ballot. That shows a lack of confidence, obviously. But the proper way to address this is not to try and take away a right that 25 cities in Illinois have already exercised.”

Emanuel campaign spokesperson Caron Brookens responded to Quinn’s poll by saying, “There is a process to get a question on the ballot and Quinn should follow it, instead of having a press conference.”

The mayor’s re-election campaign also cited a 2003 interview with the Chicago Sun-Times in which Quinn was quoted as opposing term limits for Chicago mayors, citing the popularity of then-Mayor Richard M. Daley.

“He has done a great job as mayor. People like him, they vote for him, and they don’t see a need for it,” Quinn said then.

While Quinn delivered his lecture during last month’s City Council meeting, Emanuel was standing on the rostrum talking to an alderman and trying his best to ignore his political nemesis.

Asked later what he was afraid of and why he won’t allow Chicago voters to decide whether their mayor should be limited to two terms, Emanuel ignored the question and turned the tables on Quinn.

“The former governor has been getting signatures for a while. He’s not ready. These referendums are ready,” the mayor said.

Emanuel’s communications director Adam Collins said then that it was “laughable” for Quinn to complain that he’s being crowded off a ballot when he was “barely halfway there after two years” of collecting signatures.

“It’s the kind of stunt we’ve seen from him for years, and all that’s missing is Pat Quinn’s old soap box and ironing board,” Collins wrote in an email.

Instead of being asked whether Chicago mayors should be limited to two terms, voters will be asked three rather innocuous advisory questions.

The Emanuel camp has argued that, since only three questions can be placed on the ballot–whether binding or nonbinding–that leaves no room for Quinn’s term-limit question. Quinn has argued otherwise, citing legal precedent.

His goal is 100,000 signatures to survive an almost certain petition challenge from Emanuel’s high-powered legal team. But, no matter how many signatures he has by the Aug. 6 deadline, the former governor said he intends to file them.