The City Council Finance Committee today recommended placing three citywide questions on the March primary ballot in a move that will block a long-sought attempt by foes of Mayor Rahm Emanuel to ask voters if they want an elected school board.
If the City Council on Wednesday approves the referendums as expected, no more citywide questions can be asked of voters, because state law sets a limit of three per election. Although that’s meant to prevent overloading the ballot, it’s also become a tool that allows mayoral allies to block anti-administration efforts.
All three questions, in the end, may have little effect. Voters would be asked if they want to pay higher taxi fares, ban high-capacity ammunition magazines and ban the carrying of firearms in all businesses that serve alcohol under the state’s new concealed carry law.
It’s unlikely voters will endorse cab fare hikes, even if drivers present a compelling case that they are underpaid when their rates are compared to other cities. And with a decidedly pro-gun control electorate in Chicago, the gun-control efforts are likely to pass.
In all cases, the referendums are advisory, which means they won’t result in any new city ordinances. In fact, the council already has approved a measure that allows for the revocation of any liquor license if the proprietor allows guns on premise under the state’s new concealed carry act.
Backers of an elected school board, like Ald. John Arena, 45th, say the troika of referendums are being deployed as a blocking technique, and even some who don’t back the effort privately concede the point, but Ald. Ed Burke, 14th, who proposed the “booze and bullets” referendum, said that’s not the case.
“The motive is to let the voters speak about guns and booze, about magazines that are used in firearms that can have especially great capacity” and on taxi rates, Burke said.
His proposal, he said, is designed to help convince the General Assembly to modify state concealed carry law. “I think that an affirmative vote by the voters will demonstrate to the legislature that the people of Chicago strongly believe that booze and bullets don’t mix,” Burke said.
A school board question also would be advisory, but it could strengthen a movement to convince the General Assembly to change the law so the school board is elected. Currently, the mayor appoints the board, and Emanuel has consistently spoken against an elected school board, contending it would inject too much politics into school board decisions.
If voters were to endorse an elected board, it also could be a sign of their dissatisfaction with the district, where teachers last year went out on strike for the first time in decades and controversial decisions to close schools have been made under Emanuel. The district is facing something of a financial crisis, with pension payments expected to hit unsustainable levels next year.
Aldermen who back an elected school board proposed a referendum on the question three months ago, but it’s been bottled up in the Rules Committee controlled by Ald. Michelle Harris, 8th. An attempt to force it out of committee was blocked last month on the council floor by Emanuel allies.
Two years ago, proponents of the question thought they had an ally in Ald. Joe Moore, 49th, who then was chairman of the Human Relations Committee. But Moore did not allow committee debate on the issue, saying his colleagues had submitted the paper work three minutes too late.
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