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What Would Actually Happen if Rahm Resigns

His replacement might not be all that different.

Emanuel   Photo: Nancy Stone/Chicago Tribune

Sun-Times columnist Neil Steinberg posted on his personal blog this morning about “Rahm’s crocodile tears,” lamenting both what he felt were fake apologies from the mayor this week as well as protestors for not planning “long term.”

What does he mean? That even if Rahm were to resign as many people would like, one of his staunchest allies would become mayor instead:

I would bet none of them have the foggiest idea who would be mayor if Emanuel quit, which he won’t. Do you? It would be the city’s vice mayor, Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd). Sure, he’s the man to fix everything. Just last month, while black aldermen were condemning Garry McCarthy, Reilly was most prominent among the white aldermen genuflecting before the doomed police superintendent, singing his praises.

Steinberg is right: If the mayor were to resign, Brendan Reilly would assume the office. For awhile at least.

Under a Rahm-blessed City Council reorganization in May, Ald. Reilly was named vice mayor, a largely ceremonial title that is only important if the current mayor resigns or becomes incapacitated. Reilly’s ward is a sprawling area that includes the Loop, Streeterville, and the Gold Coast, and 85 percent of its voters happened to vote for Emanuel in April’s runoff election—the biggest margin of any ward. 

What’s more, there would be no emergency election should a resignation occur. Instead, according to Illinois statute, Reilly would serve as interim mayor until City Council elects an acting mayor. (Should City Council not name a replacement, Reilly would serve until after the next mayor election, right now scheduled for 2019—see update below). The last time this happened was in 1987, when Mayor Harold Washington died of a heart attack. Vice Mayor David Orr served as interim mayor for a week before City Council elected Eugene Sawyer, who went on to lose in 1989 to Richard M. Daley.

What about a recall election, you ask? Currently that’s not allowed in Chicago, though Rep. La Shawn Ford introduced a bill this week that seeks to change that law.  The bill as written would require a recall election to take place within 100 days of petitioners filing signatures equal to at least 15 percent of the total votes cast in the last election (with a minimum of 50 signatures from each ward)—about 86,000, based on the 2015 runoff, in which more than 573,000 people voted.

Should Rahm lose that, the city would hold a special election within 60 days to nominate a new mayor. If no candidate receives a majority of the votes, a third, runoff election would be held within 60 days of the special election.

Update A commenter rightly points out that the 1989 election was held early due to Washington’s death. The Illinois Supreme Court ruled in November of 1988 that Chicago must hold a special mayoral election early. That’s because, according to state law, if a vacancy occurs with more than 28 months left in a term, an election must be held to fill the vacancy.

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