Take Charge Chicago still pushes for mayoral term limits
August 3, 2018

Photo courtesy Take Charge Chicago
Former Illinois Governor Patrick Quinn and Take Charge Chicago are working to enact term limits for the mayor of the City.

By Madeline Makoul

Former Governor Pat Quinn and the community activist group Take Charge Chicago continue to push for mayoral term limits, despite the City Council’s efforts to crowd their proposed referenda off the November ballot.

Take Charge Chicago and Quinn have worked for the past two years to obtain petition signatures for two binding referenda to appear on the November ballot. One calls for limiting the mayor of Chicago to two four-year terms, while the other recommends creating an elected consumer advocate “to be a champion for beleaguered Chicago taxpayers and consumers,” according to Take Charge Chicago.

Take Charge Chicago is focusing on the push for a two-term limit on Chicago’s mayor. If the referendum goes through, it would make Rahm Emanuel ineligible for another term as mayor.

“I think the time is right to have the subject debated in Chicago because the incumbent mayor is finishing his second term and we want to ask the City of Chicago ‘should the mayor have any more than two terms?’” Quinn said. “This isn’t focused on the incumbent as much as it is about having a principle for a two-term limit here in Chicago, similar to what we have for the president of the United States.”

Dick Simpson, former alderman and professor of political science at the University of Illinois at Chicago, said term limits offer a good way to avoid longstanding mayors who become “autocratic.” Specifically, Simpson pointed to Richard J. Daley and Richard M. Daley, both of whom served as Chicago mayor for more than 20 years. Simpson said Richard J. Daley in particular became more “dictatorial” the longer he served as mayor—something term limits can help avoid.

“I think term limits are a good policy, not a cure all, but a useful one,” Simpson explained. “It’s better to have turnover in a key office like that. It encourages new ideas and prevents autocratic rule.”

Term limits for Chicago’s mayor is not a unique idea. In fact, Quinn said, of the ten largest cities in America, nine have term limits for their mayor, with Chicago as the outlier. In addition, Quinn said, 25 cities in Illinois have passed term limits, too, including Naperville, Springfield, Oak Lawn, and Des Plaines.

Despite other cities’ success with term limits, Quinn continues to fight to get what he called a “herculean” 52,519 signatures to qualify the term-limits referendum for the ballot, while the City Council attempts to block it.

Manipulating the system

The law says a ballot can contain no more than three referenda up for a vote. In June, the City Council moved to put three non-binding questions on the ballot regarding how to allocate proceeds from legal marijuana sales, property tax exemptions for low-income families, and whether to ban plastic straws. With three seemingly non-controversial questions tentatively filling the ballot, Quinn and others speculated about the motives behind their placement, alleging that the mayor was behind the council’s action.

“It’s an underhanded effort and it’s just plain wrong and frankly unconstitutional,” Quinn said. “When you are elected to office, whether it’s mayor or governor, you take an oath to uphold the constitution, and in this case, the mayor has breached his oath because he knows full well that we have the right to have this. They are trying to cancel out or eliminate our right, and their actions will not succeed.”

The difference between Take Charge Chicago’s term-limit referendum and the three in discussion for the ballot (and what makes Take Charge Chicago’s referendum such a threat to the mayor) is that the term-limit referendum would be binding, Quinn said. This means that, in November, if the referendum is on the ballot and the public votes in favor of term limits, it will go into effect. With Mayor Emanuel already in his second term, he would no longer be eligible to run for mayor in 2019, Quinn explained.

Troy LaRaviere, president of the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association and a candidate running for mayor, said although he does not believe term limits for the mayor are the best way to prevent corruption in government, he too recognizes the maneuvers by City Council as a manipulation of the system in place for ballots.

“I can’t prove it, but we know who we are dealing with here,” LaRaviere said. “We are dealing with Rahm and the Democratic machine of Chicago, and they are capable of using every tool they have to thwart democracy and force their own political will.”

Simpson also considers the three non-binding ballot questions as a manipulation, which he said goes beyond the mayor to the City Council, which made the decision.

Simpson believes term limits should be enacted not only for the mayor, but for aldermen, to help ensure those in office look out for people’s best interests.

“It should also be the norm enforced by citizens that aldermen who purposely vote to thwart democracy should be voted out of office whether they are supported by the mayor or not,” Simpson said. “The right of citizens to be heard on important public policy questions should be the guiding norm, and when there is a clear attempt to manipulate the law to prevent citizens from having their voice, those people should be voted out of office routinely.”

Photo by Chris Eaves courtesy Better Government Association
Former Illinois Governor Patrick Quinn and Take Charge Chicago are working to enact term limits for the Mayor of the City.

Moving forward

While Quinn maintains a positive outlook that the referendum will pull through, Take Charge Chicago has only until Monday, Aug. 6—92 days before the November vote—to gather enough signatures. Simpson explained, however, that the group must exceed the required minimum for signatures by far, as opponents will examine each signature in an attempt to throw out enough to disqualify the petitions.

Take Charge Chicago and Quinn are ready for a fight, and Quinn said they will continue to gather signatures until the deadline, working day in and day out to get the referendum on the November ballot. Above all else, he said he is dedicated to seeing elected officials uphold Chicagoans’ constitutional rights.

If they gather enough signatures to allow the referendum, they expect a court fight over placing it on the ballot, as the ballot already holds three other referenda.

Beyond term limits helping promote an influx of fresh faces and new ideas, Quinn stands by the importance of voter’s voices—voices that, in this case, will have a significant effect on Chicago politics.

“When we file our petition on August 6, we’ll show there is a substantial amount of voters who want to vote on this issue in November,” Quinn said. “That’s what these [petitions] are all about. If you have the signatures, you can put it on the ballot. You cannot allow the mayor or City Council to take away the fundamental rights to petition a referendum that the people have. That’s what they are trying to do, and we won’t let them.”

For more on LaRaviere, log on to www.troyforchicago.com. To learn more about this referendum enforcing term limits for the Mayor of Chicago, visit takechargechicago.org. To contact Simpson, email simpson@uic.edu.