City Hall Squeeze-Out: Proposed Vote on Elected School Board in Jeopardy

By Ted Cox on December 3, 2013 5:56pm 

 Ald. John Arena says there's an organized strategy to keep his proposed referendum on an elected school board off the March primary ballot.
Ald. John Arena says there's an organized strategy to keep his proposed referendum on an elected school board off the March primary ballot.
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DNAinfo/Ted Cox

CITY HALL — A proposal to have a citywide referendum on an elected school board is being squeezed off the ballot, according to a progressive alderman.

Ald. John Arena (45th) charged that three other referendums proposed last week are part of an organized effort to keep his vote on an elected school board off the ballot, as only three are allowed at a time.

"There was a strategy behind that," Arena said Tuesday. "Clearly there's an effort to keep this away from a voter referendum."

It's not the first time the proposal has been tangled up in the City Council. A year ago, Arena submitted a similar proposal before the November general election, and hoped to get it heard before the Human Relations Committee headed by Ald. Joe Moore (49th), but it was rejected when Arena filed a formal request for a hearing three minutes past a final deadline.

The referendum went up on a precinct-by-precinct basic last November, and according to Arena it gained 85 percent support across one-third of the city. He submitted another proposal for a citywide referendum in September, but it was sent to the Rules Committee under Ald. Michelle Harris (8th), which has been labeled "where good legislation goes to die."

Arena fought to get it out of the Rules Committee, but it failed a vote in the City Council last month. Then came the three referendums proposed last week after the 2014 budget passed.

One, proposed by Ald. Edward Burke (14th), would ask voter opinion on the concealed carrying of guns in restaurants. Another, submitted by Ald. James Balcer (11th), concerned a ban on high-capacity gun ammunition magazines. A third, submitted by Ald. Anthony Beale (9th), would ask voters if they want higher rates for taxi cabs.

Arena charged that it was no coincidence that all three turned up at once just a few months ahead of the March primary, where a maximum of three referendums are allowed on the ballot. He also pointed to how none of the questions is exactly controversial, or even in doubt given public sentiments.

"We already know that people don't want guns in restaurants in Chicago," Arena said.

"Just the fact that it's being fought from being put on the ballot is telling," he added. "The fact that they're being so adamant and so transparent — if you will — about slighting this ... they're trying to protect control."

Balcer, Beale and Burke all failed to respond to requests for comment.

By contrast, an elected school board has been pushed by Chicago Public Schools parents and students, but has been resisted by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who currently appoints all members of the Board of Education, as it's been since his predecessor, Mayor Richard M. Daley, took control of CPS in reforms instituted in the '90s.

"They're dissatisfied with the system," Arena said. "They don't feel like they're being heard. The public process that is implemented [at the Board of Education] is clearly just for show and does not incorporate community interest."

Arena said now it's a race to get the first three referendums through the council and on the ballot. "These things all have to pass," he said. "I'm still trying to hold a little hope that I can get Michelle Harris to pull this out.

"Nobody's ready to lay down, that's for sure," Arena added. "We'd love to get all of Chicago weighing in on this. It's not something I'm gonna let sit in Rules indefinitely."

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