If you’re looking for evidence that Chicago voters are at war with themselves, look no further than recent referendum results on the so-called big-box living-wage ordinance.
In precincts from 24 wards over the last three elections (last year’s March primary, the November general election, and last month’s municipal election) voters were asked to weigh in on a nonbinding referendum reading “Shall the Chicago City Council enact the ‘Big Box Living Wage Ordinance,’ requiring that all retail establishments of 90,000 square feet in Chicago with $1 billion or more in sales pay a minimum ‘living wage’ of at least $10.00 per hour plus $3.00 per hour towards employee health benefits?”
Roughly 80 percent of voters said yes, according to an analysis of election results by the Grassroots Collaborative, a coalition in support of the living wage. According to a report issued by the group, more than 38,000 voted in favor of the resolution.
As you may recall, 35 alderman voted for the big-box minimum-wage ordinance over Mayor Daley’s objections last year. The mayor killed the ordinance by vetoing it, then convincing three aldermen (Danny Solis, George Cardenas, and Shirley Coleman) to flip-flop, preventing an override.
Last summer, as part of a lobbying effort to win public support for the veto, the mayor held a rally on the far south side attended by black aldermen, ministers, and civic leaders, where in a rather brilliant stroke of PR he contended that the ordinance would unfairly deprive black residents of the opportunity to shop at Wal-Mart, Target, and other big-box stores in their neighborhoods.
Funny, the referendum was overwhelmingly endorsed by well over 80 percent of the voters in black wards in the November and February elections.
But here’s an even funnier thing. In precinct after precinct, voters who supported the referendum turned right around and voted for aldermen who had opposed it.
For instance, November election results for the Third Ward’s sixth precinct were 88 to 3 in favor of the referendum. Yet last month alderman Dorothy Tillman, who voted against the ordinance, won 42 percent of that precinct’s vote, a plurality in the four-way race. Daley himself won 53 percent. In the Third Ward’s 48th precinct, where the referendum won 93 percent of the vote in November, Tillman got 70 percent and Daley 60 percent.
Results were even more schizophrenic in alderman Cardenas’s 12th ward in February: about 83 percent of the voters voted for the referendum on the very same ballot where they reelected Cardenas with 59.1 percent of the vote. In the sixth precinct the referendum won 92 percent and Cardenas 62 percent of the vote.
So what does this mean?
“Clearly, voters are not one-issue,” says an aide to a north-side alderman. “They can disagree with an alderman on one issue and still vote for him if they like the overall job he’s doing.”
Does it mean anything else?
“Yeah, voters are dumb,” he says, laughing.