Court Knocks Emanuel Off Ballot
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CHICAGO -- With only a month to go until Election Day, more than $10 million in campaign money and an overwhelming lead in the polls, Rahm Emanuel, the former White House chief of staff, was disqualified on Monday from appearing on this city's ballot for mayor.
A panel of Illinois Appellate Court justices, in a 2-1 ruling, found that Mr. Emanuel failed to meet a state code stipulating that candidates for mayor reside in the city they hope to lead for at least a full year before an election.
Mr. Emanuel maintains that his time in Washington, which ended in October, was always meant to be temporary and ought not affect his legal status as a resident of Chicago. He filed a motion with the Illinois Supreme Court late Monday to stay the appellate court decision and expedite an appeal.
Appearing before a crush of reporters inside a popular restaurant, Mr. Emanuel said confidently that he expected to prevail, and quoted a saying of his father: "Nothing is ever easy in life."
But the ruling -- stunning to many because a lower court and an election board had earlier reached the opposite conclusion -- was already upending the first race with an open field this city has had in decades.
"It is so bizarre to fathom," said Cindi Canary, a longtime political observer here who leads the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform. "Last week, he was the $12 million man, unbeatable, inevitable. And now, a lightning strike.
"This decision may not be the final word, but in a way, it's a game changer anyway, giving air to the other candidates. Either way, it may well shift the thought that this election is over."
With time running short, Chicago election officials said that ballots for the Feb. 22 election would be printed as early as Tuesday -- and that Mr. Emanuel's name would not appear on them. Donors and city leaders who have endorsed Mr. Emanuel sounded frustrated and perplexed about what had occurred and what to do now. And Mr. Emanuel's five competitors for the job were scrambling to woo away his supporters.
The battle over Mr. Emanuel's qualifications to run for mayor of Chicago actually began quietly within days after Richard M. Daley, the city's longest-serving mayor, announced in early September that he would not seek another term.
Several election lawyers, including Burt Odelson, a longtime expert here in such matters, raised questions, and soon, a full challenge was under way; at one point, close to 30 people here had filed official complaints over the matter, but those numbers dwindled as the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners and a Cook County judge ruled on the question of residency in Mr. Emanuel's favor.
Those close to Mr. Emanuel say he was aware of the residency requirement even before he chose to leave the White House in October to explore a run for mayor here. An associate said he had been advised by lawyers that the requirement would probably not be a serious obstacle. He believed that his biggest challenge would not be proving his legal residency, the associate said, but clearing the field of potential challengers and overcoming some liberal critics.
Legal experts have offered widely diverging views of what the state's municipal code means when it refers to legal residency.
Supporters of Mr. Emanuel, who was born in Chicago and represented a Congressional district here for years, say legal residency is a matter of "intent" and whether he always intended to return from Washington after the White House -- a circumstance they argue is backed up by his owning a house here (though a tenant has rented it for now), voting here, paying taxes here, and leaving his most prized possessions (including his wife's wedding dress) here.
Others -- including two of the Illinois appellate justices issuing the ruling on Monday -- say that physical presence is needed, and that service at the White House provides no special exception.
Some here were hinting that they sensed old-school Chicago politics in the ruling, particularly in a state where judges are elected and local party leaders sometimes support them, but others dismissed such notions.
The appellate court justices who held the majority in the case -- Thomas E. Hoffman and Shelvin Louise Marie Hall -- have run as Democrats, court officials said, and Mr. Hoffman, who wrote the ruling and has served 17 years as an appellate judge, was widely lauded by colleagues for his past legal analyses.
"Everybody thinks everything is bought and paid for in Chicago, but lots of judges are quite above all that," said Dawn Clark Netsch, an emerita professor of law at Northwestern University and a longtime figure in Democratic politics in the state.
Politics here, at any rate, is more complicated and personal than matters of party: the mayor's race is a nonpartisan election, and the most prominent candidates are all Democrats.
The case now goes before the Illinois Supreme Court, though it was uncertain how quickly it will be presented or whether the court will choose to consider it. The court includes three Republicans and four Democrats, including some with strong ties to Chicago.
The ruling against Mr. Emanuel seemed most likely to benefit Gery Chico, a former chief of staff to Mr. Daley, and Carol Moseley Braun, who was the first African-American woman to be elected to the United States Senate.
Dick Simpson, a political scientist here and a former Chicago alderman, said that Mr. Chico would most likely win away some of Mr. Emanuel's white and Hispanic voters, and that Ms. Braun might now get moreAfrican-Americans.
No one was wasting any time.
"I am extending a hand of friendship to all the fine Chicagoans who have been supporting Rahm and all those that haven't made up their minds yet," Ms. Braun said at a news conference Monday afternoon at which she was joined by the Rev. Jesse Jackson.
Mr. Emanuel's staff said he would go right on campaigning, shaking hands at L stops and appearing at fund-raising events. But people in his inner circle were clearly worried.
And it was hard to envision a campaign where a candidate must convince voters that he will indeed appear on the ballot (lawyers for Mr. Emanuel asked the Supreme Court to order his name left in place). Some voters on the streets here seemed puzzled.
But at an intersection downtown, just after dark, scores of supporters of Mr. Emanuel gathered -- thanks to a text message issued from his campaign -- on a busy street corner at rush hours carrying signs. "Let the people decide!" and "Let Rahm run!" they chanted.
First Published January 25, 2011 12:01 am