Ward Room
Covering Chicago's nine political influencers

Let Clout Decide

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Let Clout Decide
Let Clout Decide

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It’s an argument usually used by candidates who wind up on the wrong side of the Machine’s election lawyers. This time, it’s being used by Rahm Emanuel and his allies. 

“It should be up to the voters of Chicago to decide if they want Emanuel to be mayor,” the Tribune wrote in an editorial this week. “His name belongs on the ballot.”

As Emanuel spokesmen Ben LaBolt puts it, “Chicagoans recognize that the only reason Rahm left town was to serve President Obama, and they believe that voters should have the right to vote for -- or against -- Rahm.”

That’s a nice sentiment. But this is Chicago. And we have all kinds of rules in place to ensure the voters don’t get to decide. Usually, though, they’re not enforced against politicians as successful as Emanuel. They’re used to swat down pesky neighborhood activists who want to challenge an alderman.

If “let the voters decide” is the overriding standard for ballot access, then why not let anyone run for office by submitting a one-page application at City Hall? Mayoral candidate Jay Stone will be disqualified because he only turned in 280 signatures, about 10,000 short of the requirement. Why not let the voters decide whether Stone should be mayor? Paul Vallas can’t run because he lives in New Orleans. But he still has a following in Chicago. Shouldn’t those people be allowed to vote for him?

These hurdles exist to help voters decide. Without them, we’d be forced to find our way through “bedsheet ballots” full of gadfly candidates. Remember how easy it was to qualify for the California recall ballot in 2003? Over 100 people ran, from publicity-seeking porn stars and washed-up child actors. The election laws ensure that only serious candidates make it to the ballot.

Emanuel’s complaints have nothing to do with Democracy. They’re all about clout. Guys like him aren’t supposed to be subjected to residency hearings. If Rahm Emanuel says he lives in Chicago, he lives in Chicago, OK?

He has nothing to worry about. This is Chicago. Clout always wins.

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