Saturday, January 22, 2011

One month remains ‘til Election Day

We’re exactly one month away from Election Day, and nine days away from the beginning of the time period in which people can start casting ballots for whom they want to be the Second City’s new mayor.

Yet we’re still going through the period in which we’re trying to determine whether or not Rahm Emanuel has a legitimate place on the ballot for the Feb. 22 municipal elections.

I’M SURE MOST people who are following this election cycle have already written it into their mindsets that this particular fight is over. Emanuel won. The Chicago Board of Election Commissioners said so. A Cook County judge has upheld that ruling.

When that decision came up for review before an Illinois appeals court panel earlier this week, the amount of attention it received was miniscule. I expect many people are figuring it’s just a matter of time before that panel upholds the circuit court ruling made earlier this month.

That’s why they’d rather talk about the fact that Carol Moseley-Braun’s fundraising skills stink (so bad that by some measures, Patricia Van Pelt-Watkins is better than the former senator), or the law enforcement endorsements picked up by Gery Chico.

Yet I can’t help but wonder if we’re going to get a jolt at some point with some legal panel tossing a grenade into the mix and making the Emanuel campaign (which took on a further air of invincibility with a new Chicago Tribune-commissioned poll showing it with such a large lead, and trends indicating it may do well enough on Feb. 22 that there won’t be a need for an April 5 runoff election) have to squirm.

I FULLY EXPECT that Burt Odelson, the election law attorney who has taken on the actual legal work of this crusade of trying to get Rahm Emanuel’s mayoral aspirations kicked off the ballot for this election cycle, doesn’t mind in the least that the clock seems to be running down.

Because some people are treating the fact that the early voting centers will open on Jan. 31 (just nine days away) as evidence that the appeals process will have to wrap up – as though there isn’t any time to continue with them.

Actually, the appeals could drag out all the way until Election Day – with the possibility that people who cast their ballots at an early voting center for Emanuel will be casting their vote for an ineligible candidate.

Wouldn’t it be ironic if Emanuel literally did get booted from the ballot at the last possible moment, yet somehow still managed to get more votes than any other candidate?

THE REASON THAT someone like Odelson wouldn’t mind the delay is that he probably would like it if the ruling that removes Rahm came at the last possible moment – so that Emanuel and the campaign would have minimal time to respond and try to find someone to overturn it.

In my time as a reporter-type person, I have covered electoral appeals that bounced back and forth, with a candidate continually being removed from, and restored to, the ballot, not knowing until the days just before the election itself whether the votes cast for that candidate would be valid.

I wonder if, in Odelson’s mind, his perfect scenario would be for the appellate court panel that spent about 45 minutes this week grilling attorneys for Rahm about residency requirements to ultimately come back some time this coming week and uphold the circuit court ruling.

Then, he would want the Illinois Supreme Court to spend some more time hearing his arguments, before also deciding to rule in Emanuel’s favor.

AT THAT POINT, the court of last chance would be the Supreme Court of the United States. There would have to be some sort of emergency motion granted for the nation’s high court to even bother with the case. Odelson would have to show somehow that federal laws are being violated by the court system in Illinois by not removing Rahm.

You and I may think it is a far stretch to claim such federal issues exist. Then again, I suspect the fact that it is “Rahm Emanuel” at stake means the court will find an excuse to claim federal issues, and will justify hearing the case.

My point being that it could be some time in mid-February before we reach some sort of ruling. What happens if Emanuel gets the boot at that point? Particularly if the ruling winds up being along politically partisan lines?

A large part of the reason why I personally have developed some respect for the idea of Rahm Emanuel as mayor of Chicago is because I sense just how politically partisan the effort to remove him from the ballot has become.

EMANUEL GETTING ELECTED as mayor would screw up the partisan fantasies of those people who want to think that Rahm’s connections to Bill Clinton (senior adviser) and Barack Obama (chief of staff) should mean he should never hold any kind of public policy position again.

I see that the people who are most concerned about this issue have little interest in Chicago municipal government, or the city’s future.

Now I’m not necessarily saying that the U.S. Supreme Court, if given the chance to get involved in this matter, will rule against Rahm. Perhaps sense will prevail in the courtroom.

All I know is that I see this legal fight as a political front that should not be ignored. It’s not over. Anybody who gets all excited about the fact Emanuel has a huge poll lead just one month from Election Day should keep in mind the possible scenario in which it wouldn’t matter.


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