Pat Quinn has a lot of work to do. He needs more than 50,000 iron-clad, valid signatures from certified Chicagoans before August 6, which he says will allow him to invoke the law which puts his petition question on the November ballot in Chicago.
That question? Shall the Mayor of Chicago be term-limited to two terms (eight years)?
Quinn tells us that, when (if) his measure gets on the ballot, if fifty percent plus one of the people who respond to the proposition answer “yes”, then Rahm Emanuel can’t appear on the municipal election ballot three months later on February 22.
Sound radical? It is. But as we all know, this is Chicago, where knocking signatures off petitions is a highly refined sport, so you have to come in the door with at least twice as many signatures as required.
So far, after two years of collecting signatures, he has just over 50,000. “You need 52,519 signatures to qualify for the ballot,” he tells us, “but we’re in Chicago, so the more signatures the better. We want to fight to protect our referendum.” So he wants to get to about 100,000 by August. It’s a heavy lift.
In fact, he’ll be so busy fighting for those additional 50,000-ish signatures that he probably won’t attend the big grand re-opening of the Governor’s mansion in Springfield hosted by the Rauners.
“I don’t think so,” he deadpans. “It’s on July 14thand our deadline to get the signatures is August 6th, so 40 days and 40 nights, that’s what I’m doing. I go to movies in the park. I go to Millennium Park. I go to festivals…”
We ask Quinn if it isn’t bad sport to try to get Emanuel off the ballot this way, effectively denying those who like and want him as their mayor. Quinn’s un-moved by the argument.
“I think the events that occurred around Laquan McDonald’s killing and the failure of the City to properly tell the public about what happened promptly, a friend of mine actually had to file the Freedom of Information request to get the video. It took over a year to get that information to the public,” he charges. “You know that kind of underlined to me that we needed to take a look at the mayor’s office in Chicago, because of all the big cities in America, the ten largest cities, only Chicago does not have a term limit on its mayor. New York passed a referendum for it, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Houston. The list goes on and on. And I think machine politics and not letting the Freedom of Information Act really be complied with underlines why a term limit on this mayor and all mayors hence forth is a good idea. Two terms, that’s eight years. If you can’t make a difference then step aside and let someone have a shot…The people have the right to set the rules for the mayor. The mayor doesn’t rule them. ”
“And the mayor right now he’s in a gopher hole,” he adds. “He’s terrified that this will go on the ballot. I was at the City Council yesterday. He’s got all his minions you know running us down and running petition-passing down. That’s what I really don’t like, because this is a fundamental right of the people of Illinois guaranteed by our Constitution and they’re not taking it away from us. You know they will try and resist. There’s no question, everything the mayor is doing now with his minions is to try and discourage people from signing our petition, circulating our petition. It ain’t working. We’re out there all over the place getting signatures.”
So, if the ballot initiative survives, and if the people vote no, Rahm Emanuel, with all his money and his powerful friends, would be told he couldn’t run, Quinn believes.
“He would be ineligible, because he would have already served two terms, two four-year terms, the same as the President. If it’s good enough for Barack Obama it should be good enough for Rahm, two terms,” he declares.
The conversation turns to Wednesday’s profound Supreme Court ruling in Janus v AFSCME, a major victory for Quinn’s successor, Bruce Rauner. The ruling’s seen as a serious blow to unions, since it permits anyone who’s not a union member to benefit from the collective bargaining the union provides without contributing financially to the service.
“The right to organize, the right to have a union is the key, the meal ticket to the middle-class, to keep wages moving up, with productivity increasing the wages should go up,” Quinn declares. “The same way with benefits, healthcare benefits, retirement benefits to protect those and also working conditions. So having an organization that protects safety in the workplace is very important, and I believe in that and we’ve got to fight for that.
Quinn takes the opportunity to criticize Speaker Madigan, who he says deprived a lot of minimum-wage workers of a pay-raise. “I was very disappointed in the Speaker of the House. I wanted to raise the minimum wage for all the workers of Illinois. We put it on the ballot as an advisory question in 2014, passed 2 to 1. The Senate passed the increase in the minimum wage, but then the Speaker of the House wouldn’t call the bill after the election. I lost the election, the candidacy, but he wouldn’t call the bill and that really let a lot of workers down, hundreds of thousands of workers in Illinois. I still don’t know why he didn’t do that, and it seemed to me that was the wrong thing to do.”
With gerrymandering in the news, since the Supreme Court appears to have green-lighted some fairly blatant redistricting in Texas an other places, we ask about some heavily Democratic-leaning districts in Illinois that have really agitated Republicans. “Well they can squawk all they want,” he declares. “Nobody has gone to court and shown by evidence that there’s any unfairness. I clearly, carefully looked at those districts and I signed it into law because it did meet the test of the Constitution and there’s no unfairness according to many many studies that are made of this. Sometimes people are sore losers, they don’t win the election.”
Was Quinn ever made aware of problems cropping up in the plumbing systems at the Illinois Veteran’s Home in Quincy? Legionella in the water there killed 13 people in the past couple of years, as reported by WBEZ.
“We never had those kind of problems,” he asserts. “They occurred in 2015 after I left the office. Now any time you have a crisis of any kind the governor has got to promptly take charge. He did not, Rauner I’m talking about, and especially inform the families. You know one of the families called and was trying to reach their mom and she had passed from Legionnaire’s disease. So it was just a total breakdown, and frankly it was fatal mismanagement by the Rauner administration and they have to be accountable for that. They are trying to avoid that.”
And finally, Rod Blagojevich. Should Donald Trump pardon him?
“Well,” he declares, ” I’m not for any pardon or clemency. I did 5,000 clemencies when I was governor, cases, more than any governor. But I always wanted to know if there was remorse, if the person was apologetic, sorry, and that they had done something to repair the damage. People were oftentimes very candid, they made a mistake and they said they made a mistake and they asked for forgiveness and they had remorse. You know Rod Blagojevich has been convicted in court of crimes. It went to the highest court in our land and they said, “Yes, you are guilty. There’s no more appeals.” So when that happens you’ve got to express remorse and say, “I’m sorry,” to the people of Illinois. His failure to do that and started saying the justice system is wrong or something like that, you don’t get mercy for that. No clemency…You know, until you decide you are going to say you’re sorry to the people and admit you are wrong, as thousands of others did who have gotten pardons from me, then I think you have to bear that weight.”
Pat Quinn’s almost 70 now, and if he pulls off his latest petition drive it’ll probably be his most spectacular disruption of the status quo since his successful 1980 “cutback amendment” that reshaped the composition of the Illinois House. But even if his 2-terms-for-the-mayor campaign fails, he’ll find another cause.
“I’ll be rocking’ the boat in a nursing home someday.,” he laughs.