Flexing the muscles he knows best, Sunday press conferences and populist referenda, former Governor Pat Quinn jumped back in the political scene yesterday when he launched a website and a drive to collect 100,000 signatures in support of two referenda for the November 8 ballot: to limit the Chicago mayor to just two terms and to create an elected Consumer Advocate for Taxpayers and Consumers for Chicago.
Quinn’s press conference, held mid-Sunday afternoon with State Representative candidate Theresa Mah as the only notable politico joining him, is the biggest political move he’s made since leaving the Governor’s office in 2014. Since his defeat by Republican Bruce Rauner, Quinn has kept a low profile: he’s appeared at various union pickets and political rallies, and his political committee, Taxpayers for Quinn, has been steadily drawn down and was last reported at $411,045 at the end of March.
The first referendum he is proposing calls for limiting the Chicago mayor to two four-year terms, effective in 2019. The second referendum would replace the Commissioner of the Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection with an elected Consumer Advocate, who would receive the same salary and elected rank as the City Clerk.
“We can make history: these would be Chicago’s first binding referendums in memory,” Quinn said in a statement. “I expect it will be a healthy exercise in democracy and hope it sparks a citywide debate over the structure of our government.”
Contacted yesterday afternoon, Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office did not provide a comment on the referenda by publication.
Quinn will have a number of significant challenges to get the two referenda on the ballot. In an unusual move, the two questions are placed on the same petition, a decision at least one election attorney questioned.
“In my almost fifty years of experience, I’ve never seen a two part referendum where one part didn’t have anything to do with the other,” said attorney Rich Means. “I’m sure opponents can think of all kinds of reasons to tie this up. There’s loads of problems with it if you can have an ex-post facto poisoning of an incumbent, telling him you can’t run again.”
Quinn’s team will also need to gather just over 52,000 valid signatures by August 8 if they want to get on the November ballot, a deadline a mere 7 weeks away from today.
There is also some question of whether or not the referenda will even be allowed on the ballot, since on June 22 the City Council is expected to vote on three ballot referenda, and only three are allowed per jurisdiction. However, a Quinn spokesman contends that doesn’t apply to their proposals.
“Those are all non-binding referendum questions, so [ours] takes precedence,” said Quinn spokesman William Morgan.
As of yesterday, Team Quinn was not ready to announce a field operation for the petitions, but Morgan says Quinn will be personally involved in the petition effort.
“He plans on bringing that clipboard from corner to corner around the city,” said Morgan. “He’s not just a figurehead, he’s a petition passer.”
Chicago will get another chance to see what a Pat Quinn political effort looks like this morning. He’s scheduled a second event at 11:30 a.m. on the Randolph Street side of City Hall.