State Representatives La Shawn Ford (8th) and Mary Flowers (31st) held a town hall on Jan. 9 at the Every Block a Village Christian Fellowship Church, 4926 W. Chicago Ave. Ford convened the meeting to answer questions, and clear up misconceptions, about the proposed state law that will allow voters to recall Chicago mayors.
The bill was introduced by Ford on Dec. 9, with Flowers signing on in support. Since then, the bill has gained seven other sponsors, but the officials and activists gathered at the town hall hoped to build enough public pressure to get more representatives to sign on. Their goal is to get at least 71 representative on board — enough to create a veto-proof majority.
In spite of the falling snow, people from Austin, throughout Chicago and even some suburbs came to the church to express their frustration with Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s leadership. The overwhelming majority of them supported the law and asked how they could get involved in the effort. Ford said he’s planning to hold an organizational workshop, which will take place in the same location on Saturday, Jan. 16, at 2:00 p.m.
Illinois House Bill 4352 amends the existing election law, establishing a procedure to recall a Chicago mayor and elect his or her successor. A recall would be triggered if a recall petition is filed and signed by two aldermen and the number of residents that meets certain thresholds. The threshold is set based on the number of voters who voted for a mayor in the most recent election, and the petition must be signed by at least 50 residents in each ward. The petition can’t be filed until at least six months after the election.
Once the petition is submitted and the Chicago Board of Elections verifies the signatures, a special recall election must be held no more than 100 days later. If the voters choose to remove the mayor, his or her successor will be chosen in two elections.
The special primary election will whittle the field of candidates down to two candidates who earned the most votes and voters will elect one of those two candidates in a special general election. The new mayor will serve the remainder of the mayor’s term. For example, if a mayor is recalled in 2017, the new mayor will only serve until 2019. The recalled mayor must step down after the recall election. The vice-mayor, currently Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd), will serve as acting mayor until the voters elect the replacement.
As noted during the town hall, there is nothing about the law that would prevent a recalled mayor from running in the special election — or any election thereafter.
“If the governor of the state can be recalled, why can’t the mayor?” said Rev. Greg Livingston, the founder of the Coalition for a New Chicago. “What’s wrong with being accountable to constituents? Why should we wait until the next election?”
LeAlan Jones, the former Green Party congressional candidate who moderated the town hall, said that having the recall mechanism in place was bigger than Emanuel. He said it was about trying to right decades of corruption, neglect and disinvestment.
“We live in the city and the state where corruption has eroded millions of dollars from our communities,” he said. “Had we had a recall mechanism in place, we would’ve had a check on power long ago.”
Ja’Mal Green, a 20-year-old South Side activist who has been at the forefront of recent protests throughout the city urging Emanuel to resign, urged everyone to put aside their differences and join the representatives in pushing the recall.
“”[My goal is] to unify people, unify our people,” he said. “When we come together, we cannot be beat.”
Rev. Ira Acree, pastor of the Greater St. John Bible Church in Austin, said that blacks who voted for Emanuel were cheated.
“Nobody knew that he was part of the [Chicago Police Department’s] code of silence,” he said. “That was disfranchisement of the community, and there must be a price to pay.”
Acree also noted that, under the city’s current law, Emanuel and other city leaders can operate with impunity.
“No mayor can be involved in corruption and collusion and arrogantly walk around saying he’s not going to resign,” said Acree.
Ford explained that getting the bill approved will take several steps. It must pass the rules committee and the election committee before it goes to the state house floor. If it passes the Illinois House, it must then pass the state Senate. Gov. Bruce Rauner — who has expressed tacit support of a recall bill — can then either sign or veto the bill. But even if the governor vetoes, Ford said he is planning to gather enough votes to override that veto.
The state lawmaker readily acknowledged that getting more officials on board probably won’t be easy, but he was optimistic that Chicago voters were passionate enough to successfully lobby for support.
“I hope you feel the energy, I hope you feel it’s time to take the city back, because if we don’t do it now, that’s it,” he said.
Ford said that he had no intention of calling the bill to the floor unless he was certain he had enough votes for it to pass.
Most of the residents who spoke during the town hall said that they were ready to help, with many offering concrete suggestions. Some suggested organizing a steering committee, traveling to Springfield to lobby for the bill and organizing phone banks. Green suggested a “recall the mayor” concert.
“I would’ve liked if we had a handout so we’d be consistent with the message,” said Dr. Carmen Palmer, a retired Chicago Public Schools teacher and founder of the Educational Village Keepers. “[But] I thought it was a good beginning.”
Kina Collins, a life-long Austin resident who has been attending Louisiana State University, was back in Chicago for winter break. She said she took part in a number of recent protests, including a protest near Emanuel’s house, and that she would continue her activism in Chicago until the semester starts.
“We need to continue to organize, because if we don’t organize, we’ll continue to have leaders who will continue to sweep crime under the rug,” said Collins. “[The town hall] was a good organizing victory, and it had a good crowd.”