How Rahm Emanuel is blocking a vote on an elected school board

December 11, 2013

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel (D) says creating an elected school board, rather than a mayoral-appointed board, would inject politics into board decisions. So Emanuel allies are pushing several completely unrelated referenda for March’s primary ballot — all in an effort to box out backers of an elected school board.

The Chicago City Council will vote Wednesday on whether to allow three referenda on this year’s ballot. One would ask voters if they want to raise taxi fares; another would ban high-capacity ammunition magazines; and a third would ban firearms in all businesses that serve alcohol.

All three are advisory, which means they wouldn’t have the force of law if passed. Chicago voters aren’t likely to vote to raise their own cab fares, according to the Chicago Tribune’s Hal Dardick. And the City Council has already approved a measure to revoke liquor licenses for any proprietor who allows guns at his or her establishment, as allowed by a new state law on concealed weapons.

But the referenda do serve a purpose: Chicago law limits the number of citywide questions on the ballot to three in any given election. By filling the ballot with three questions unrelated to creating an elected school board, Emanuel’s allies kept that question off the ballot.

This is the second time Emanuel allies have filled the ballot to prevent a school board referendum from coming before voters. The city’s teacher’s union previously tried to get questions on the ballot in specific precincts, which is also allowed under city law, but they only succeeded in a handful of precincts.

A school board referendum would also be advisory, the Tribune said, but if one passed, it could provide momentum for backers in the Illinois General Assembly, which must change the law. Under current law, the mayor appoints board members.

Referendum supporters must collect valid signatures equal to 8 percent of the number of votes cast for governor in the preceding election, or a little more than 55,000 signatures, based on 2010 election results. Alternatively, a referendum can win a place on the ballot through the City Council; Emanuel allies have prevented a school board referendum from getting through the council’s rules committee this year.

Reid Wilson covers state politics and policy for the Washington Post's GovBeat blog. He's a former editor in chief of The Hotline, the premier tip sheet on campaigns and elections, and he's a complete political junkie.
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