The Suspicious Timing of Alderman Sandi Jackson’s Resignation

Jackson’s Selfish Political Ploy Denies 7th Ward Voters The Right to Choose Their New Alderman

Alderman Sandi Jackson’s suspiciously timed resignation from office 35 days prior to her pleading guilty to tax evasion rivals the moxie of convicted ex-governor Rod Blagojevich. U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald and FBI Agent Robert Grant said that they arrested Blagojevich earlier than they planned in order to stop the governor from selling Barack Obama’s Senate seat.  A defiant Blagojevich appointed Roland Burris to the U.S. Senate, but eventually a federal court judge ordered a special election.

Similarly, Jackson’s resignation and the appointment of her successor, Natasha Holmes, should result in a special election. Sandi Jackson deliberately delayed her resignation for the purpose of denying 7th Ward voters the right to choose their own alderman. The only difference between Jackson and Blagojevich’s infringement of voters’ rights is the number of voters involved.

Illinois election law grants Mayor Rahm Emanuel the power to fill a vacancy for alderman 28 months or less before the next scheduled municipal election. January 15, 2013, was exactly 28 months before the May 15, 2015, end of Alderman Jackson’s term. The resignation date Jackson chose and Mayor Emanuel’s legal authority to appoint her successor are both January 15, 2013. It is not a coincidence that Alderman Jackson’s effective resignation date and the first day the law allowed Mayor Emanuel to appoint an alderman to fulfill her term are one and the same.

There was an important date missing from Sandi Jackson’s resignation letter, which reveals her intent to deny 7th Ward residents their right to vote for their new alderman. The resignation letter that Sandi Jackson sent to Mayor Rahm Emanuel on January 11, 2013, was undated. There is little doubt that Jackson deliberately left her termination letter undated in an attempt to hide delaying her resignation to allow her successor to be appointed. However, there are numerous media reports that Emanuel received Jackson’s formal termination notice on January 11. Though Jackson delivered her termination letter on January 11, she wrote that her resignation would not be effective until January 15, 2013.

Jackson delayed her resignation from January 11 to January 15 with malicious intent. The four-day delay gave Mayor Emanuel the power to appoint her successor. If Jackson wrote that she was resigning effective January 11, the day she delivered her resignation letter to Emanuel, then 7th Ward voters would have had a chance to elect an alderman to fulfill Jackson’s term. Jackson wrote her termination letter with the purpose of bestowing on Mayor Emanuel the power to choose the next alderman of the 7th Ward.

Jackson revealed her motive for postponing her resignation in her farewell phone call to her supporters and staff. Someone recorded Jackson as saying that she arranged for her Chief of Staff Keiana Barrett to be appointed the next alderman of the 7th Ward. Jackson knew the earliest date her successor could be appointed was January 15; however, she failed to realize that Illinois law required her successor to live in the 7th Ward at the time of the appointment. Jackson’s ignorance was Mayor Emanuel’s blessing. Illinois law barred Emanuel from appointing Barrett even if Emanuel had promised Jackson he would. Barrett was ineligible to succeed Jackson because she was not a 7th Ward resident.

             Alderman Sandi Jackson’s Resignation Timeline

Date Event
February 22, 2011 Sandi Jackson wins reelection to her second term as 7th Ward alderman.
January 11, 2013 Sandi Jackson submits her undated resignation letter. Instead of an immediate resignation, Jackson postpones her actual resignation for four days.
January 15, 2013 First day Mayor Emanuel has the legal authority to appoint Alderman Jackson’s successor. January 15, 2013, is exactly 28 months before the May 15, 2015, end of Alderman Jackson’s term.
January 15, 2013 The day Sandi Jackson picked for her resignation to take effect, though four days had elapsed since she sent her official termination notice to Mayor Emanuel.
February 20, 2013 Sandi Jackson pleads guilty to filing false tax returns.
May 15, 2015 Alderman Sandi Jackson’s last day in office if she had served her full-term.

 Jackson’s Dishonesty and Deception

It seems obvious that Alderman Jackson was dishonest and misleading while she was a target in a federal investigation and when she wrote and delivered her termination letter. In Jackson’s resignation letter she said, “As a representative of the people of the 7th Ward, I value the public trust which has been bestowed upon me and take my responsibility to safeguard the interests of my constituents seriously.” The words in Jackson’s resignation letter belie her actions. Since she delayed her resignation, which denied voters a chance to choose their next alderman, Jackson neither trusted nor valued the 7th Ward voters’ right to chose their own representative.

The founders of our country guaranteed our right to vote for good reasons. Voting is the primary means by which citizens can protect themselves from an oppressive government or bad public officials. Jackson timed her resignation for the purpose of having her handpicked successor appointed, not elected. She violated her constituents’ most fundamental rights instead of safeguarding them as Jackson claimed she did in her resignation letter. Jackson is in serious denial of the harmful consequences of her resignation that circumvented 7th Ward residents’ right to choose their alderman.

Reduce Chicago’s Appointment Law from 28 Months to 1 Year

As despicable as Sandi Jackson’s delayed resignation is, Jackson did not break any laws unless she sought something in return for postponing her resignation and making the appointment of her successor possible. The real problem isn’t Sandi Jackson; it’s the appointment law.

The aldermanic appointment law that Jackson exploited is almost certainly unconstitutional. Alderman Jackson’s successor, Natasha Holmes, will serve 27 months of Jackson’s term without the voters having elected her. The fact that an appointed alderman such as Holmes can serve more than half of a four-year term without an election undermines the fundamental principles of our democracy.

Mayor Richard M. Daley appointed 19 alderman during his 22-year reign as mayor. Daley averaged almost one aldermanic appointment per year. By the time Daley left office, he had appointed 38% of the 50 aldermen who served on Chicago’s City Council. Mayor Emanuel’s appointment of Natasha Holmes continues the undemocratic trend of his predecessor.

Appointed Chicago aldermen act more like employees of the mayor’s administration than representatives of their constituents. The high number of appointed aldermen has eroded the checks and balances that come with separate executive and legislative branches of government. The City Council voted against Mayor Daley only two times during Daley’s 22-year tenure. This is just one more indisputable proof that Chicago lacks separation between its branches of government.

Chicago’s appointment law also allows the mayor to serve 28 months without benefit of voter elections. If the mayor dies or resigns within this period, the City Council decides who will complete the mayor’s term. The legal issue is the 28 months an appointed mayor can serve in office, not the City Council’s authority to select a mayor. The appointment laws for both mayor and aldermen are almost certainly unconstitutional. There is no democracy when a politician can serve as mayor or alderman for the majority of a term without the residents having the opportunity to vote.

If Emanuel truly wants to be the people’s mayor, as he fancies himself, he will challenge the appointment law in court just as he went to court to challenge the Inspector General’s subpoena power. With the U.S. Constitution and case law clearly on Emanuel’s side, he could easily have the appointment time for an alderman and mayor’s unfulfilled term reduced from within 28 months to 12 months. Instead, acting like the true Chicago political boss that he is, Emanuel appointed Natasha Holmes as Alderman Jackson’s successor.