Ultimately, the question of whether or not Rahm Emanuel legitimately lives in Chicago will come down to the whim of a Cook County judge, and how loosely that justice is willing to interpret the criteria that defines a city resident for political purposes.
IN EMANUEL’S CASE, his opponents are claiming that he moved from Chicago at the end of 2008, and is only now this week returning to the city – which they say means he isn’t anywhere near close to that “one full year” requirement if he wants to run for mayor in the 2011 municipal elections.
Of course, Emanuel claims that he leased his house in the Ravenswood neighborhood (the same neighborhood where now-former Gov. Rod Blagojevich lives), which means he still owns it.
The Chicago Sun-Times reported that Emanuel also could argue that he uses that address for his driver’s license issued by the Illinois secretary of state’s office, and has remained registered to vote there – using an absentee ballot to cast his votes in the elections that were held (admittedly, not many) during his stint as White House chief of staff.
In short, Emanuel claims to be like many another Washington resident – merely a transitory one who intends to return to his “real” home when his job in D.C. is done.
PERHAPS IT IS because I fully comprehend the transitory nature of many federal government employees who work in Washington – nobody should have been surprised that Emanuel always intended to return to Chicago.
Which is why he never sold the house, instead subletting it to a man who now refuses to leave any earlier than his lease with Emanuel requires him to.
That man may have a fully-legitimate claim to not wanting to be kicked out of his rented residence prematurely. But I am not sure that he is sufficient evidence that Emanuel no longer lives there – even though some attorneys claim it is.
The Sun-Times, in their report published Monday, dug up one of Chicago’s pre-eminent experts on election law, who said that any challenge to an Emanuel campaign based on residency requirements is, “not a hard case” to prove.
THEN AGAIN, THE newspaper also points out that attorney Burt Odelson has done work on behalf of Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart and Rev./state Sen. James Meeks, D-Chicago – both of whom are among Emanuel’s more significant challengers for next year’s mayoral election.
Both of those campaigns would experience a significant boost by having a much easier time of campaigning if they do not have to worry about Rahm going all out against them and using his financial advantages to try to bury them before they can even get started.
So of course he wants to believe it is an open-and-shut case.
Ultimately, it is going to come down to which judge winds up hearing the legal challenge to an Emanuel campaign. The simple fact of the rule of law is that it is meant to be interpreted by judges to figure out how it fits specific circumstances.
SO IT COULD be possible that a judge would interpret the measure so strictly as to deny Emanuel a spot in the mayoral campaign – which would really turn an already-absurd process completely upside down.
Then again, he might get a judge who is inclined to view the circumstances similar to how I do – which is that since he has maintained his address and conducted it for personal business, it should count. I am swayed by the fact that he never gave up his address for purposes of casting a ballot.
If he really had intended to become a denizen of the District of Columbia, he would have shifted his registration. It would have been easier, and more practical. Instead, he decided to keep his personal political choice in Chicago.
Which to me means that for political purposes, there is not a break in time for his stint as a city resident.
OF COURSE, I am not a judge in the Cook County court system. So my just-stated opinion doesn’t mean squat. Although it is as legitimate as any opinion stated by any other electoral observer or political gas-bag.
If it reads like I’m writing that Emanuel should not be kicked off the ballot for this technicality, you’d be correct. I’d rather see the mayoral campaign get settled on the streets, with the voters deciding whether or not they want Rahm or Tom or James or Miguel (as in del Valle) to be Chicago’s next mayor.
But I’m not an idealist.
So I’m fully aware that the week of Nov. 29 (one week after the deadline for submitting nominating petitions to get on the ballot), someone is going to file an Emanuel challenge with the Chicago Board of Elections.
IF THAT BODY is so inclined to give Rahm the boot, then it will work its way into the court system – possibly as high as the Illinois Supreme Court if the lawyers are so inclined.
Which means it could be sometime around the beginning of the new year that we Chicago voters will learn whether or not the Emanuel for Mayor campaign will fight it out for voter support, or if it is dead before beginning.