CITY HALL — Aldermen are up to their usual "political shenanigans" when it comes to packing the November general election with referendums intended to keep other, more controversial issues off the ballot.
Ald. Anthony Napolitano (41st), the apparent victim this time around, called it "quite an eye-opener of how politics works, and really I thought it was comical."
Just as one possible referendum was held in committee during Wednesday's City Council meeting, Ald. Joe Moore (49th) was submitting another to take its place on whether the city should ban municipal investment in fossil fuels.
If affirmed by the Rules Committee and the City Council, Moore's resolution would place a non-binding referendum on the ballot asking: "Should the City of Chicago establish a policy of not investing city funds in corporations that produce fossil fuels?"
"I have a lot of people who are environmentalists who live in my ward, and there's a group that's working on this issue right now," Moore said Thursday. "It's not something that's just picked out of thin air."
But that would potentially block a referendum on whether voters would like an independent board to oversee O'Hare and Midway International Airports and seize control from appointees of Mayor Rahm Emanuel — a cause that has caught the attention of residents trying to combat increased jet noise.
Only three citywide referendums are allowed on the ballot, and the Rules Committee and the Council have already endorsed two non-binding referendums on gun control and state education funding.
"Last City Council," Napolitano said Thursday, "I was kind of thrown into the lion's den of how this all works."
Napolitano said he turned to Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) and asked, "Why are so many people looking to get these referendums out all of a sudden? These are no-brainers."
"That's why they're doing it," Reilly responded. "This is in order to keep you off the ballot."
"What are we gonna ask next?" Napolitano said Thursday. "Are we gonna make sure everyone's got laces in their shoes?"
No, it's "the city and its pension funds divesting from fossil fuels," as Moore put it Thursday. "It's an issue that I'm concerned about. Quite frankly, I don't have a dog in the airport battle. This is something that I care about."
Ald. Michelle Harris (8th), chairman of the Rules Committee, held a third referendum proposal back Wednesday that would have asked voters about the need for a city identification card for undocumented immigrants. Ald. Danny Solis (25th) proposed it, but Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th) raised red flags about whether it could become a lightning rod in the presidential campaign.
Even as Harris was holding that in committee, Moore was submitting his new proposal.
Moore insisted he was not protecting the mayor and his appointed airport heads, but the coincidences are beginning to pile up for an alderman who was a persistent thorn in the side of Mayor Richard M. Daley, but has proved to be one of Emanuel's staunchest defenders.
Moore's proposal for a referendum on mandatory paid sick leave helped push a referendum on an elected school board off the citywide ballot in last year's municipal election. Before that, Moore helped block a similar referendum in 2012 while chairman of the Human Relations Committee.
Napolitano, meanwhile, has a proposal for a referendum on an elected airport oversight board before the Aviation Committee. If it were to be passed ahead of Moore's proposal, it could conceivably claim the third spot on the citywide ballot, but he said, "I don't know" about its prospects with Ald. Michael Zalewski (23rd), chairman of the Aviation Committee.
Napolitano was rebuffed by Emanuel earlier this month in a bid to join the O'Hare Noise Compatibility Commission, so he's getting a full course in political hardball these days.
Unlike a month ago, however, he wasn't caught off guard by Moore's maneuver. "Am I surprised?" Napolitano said. "No, I'm not surprised."
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