Recall Rahm? Right Now, There’s No Way To Do It

<p>Rahm Emanuel, who vows not to resign and disputes claims of withholding the Laquan McDonald police shooting tape for political purposes, cannot be plucked from office by a Chicago recall effort.</p><p>&nbsp;</p>

Main image courtesy of the Sun-Times

Critics continue to protest Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s handling of the 2014 shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald by a Chicago police officer.

Indeed, some of the mayor’s most vociferous detractors are openly calling on the mayor to resign, arguing that he held off releasing a police dash cam video of the shooting in order to win reelection this year. If he won’t voluntarily go, they say, then an effort to recall him from office is the other option.

Some Emanuel detractors recently launched   Twitter feeds and a Facebook page calling for his recall or seeking to jumpstart such a campaign.

Yet the present reality is this: Rahm Emanuel, who vows not to resign and disputes claims of withholding the tape for political purposes, can’t be plucked from office via a Chicago recall effort.

Why?

The most compelling reason is there’s no City of Chicago law or mechanism for recalling a sitting mayor, according to research evaluated by the BGA policy team.

The state constitution does not address the issue of recalling locally elected officials.

Moreover, there’s only one example of a local public official recently being recalled. That was in Buffalo Grove, where in 2010 a trustee to the city council was removed from office.

That recall came shortly after the suburb’s election laws were changed to pave the way for such an effort. The Buffalo Grove situation is believed to be the only such removal of a locally elected official in Illinois.

On the state level, there’s a little more recall flexibility.

A 2010 referendum enables voters to recall a governor. However, that can occur only when certain conditions are met including getting at least 20 state representatives and 10 senators, split equally between each political party, to sign a notice of intent to recall the governor before a recall petition is circulated.

What would it take to launch a recall effort in Chicago?

The best we can determine is the city council would have to pass a recall bill and the mayor would have to sign it into law.

Not likely.

Oversight and accountability laws are always controversial with aldermen. Consider the fact that the city council is already having extreme difficulty just deciding on legislative inspector general. To expect it to leap into a controversial recall fray is a stretch.

And recall is a tricky matter.

Although the concept goes back to the start of Athenian democracy it has had mixed results over the years in the United States. It can be a cumbersome, expensive and labor-intensive process. And then there’s the fundamental issue of removing a duly elected representative of the people before completing their term.

Despite being the target of unrelenting criticism and anger, Mayor Emanuel vows to stay put and reform his administration by rebooting the culture of the Chicago Police Department.

As examples of his commitment to major change, Emanuel points to his recent firing of police chief Garry McCarthy, the formation of a task force that’s delving into police procedures and appointing a new leader of the Independent Police Review Authority, which reviews allegations of police misconduct.

Emanuel is undoubtedly facing the biggest challenge of his mayoral tenure and the police shooting controversy are far from over.

But chances of recalling the mayor is between slim and none. And for the foreseeable future that is not likely to change.

BGA policy coordinator Judy Stevens and policy intern John Knowles contributed research.

About the Author

Robert Reed

Bob Reed has more than 30 years of professional journalism and communications experience. Before joining the BGA in September 2010, he served as communications director and senior adviser to Illinois Governor Pat Quinn.