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Supreme Court: Emanuel on Chicago mayor ballot

January 27, 2011|Liam Ford, Jeff Coen and David Heinzmann, Chicago Tribune
  • Former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel smiles while participating in a round-table discussion with veterans.
Former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel smiles while participating… (M. Spencer Green / Associated…)

The Illinois Supreme Court ruled Thursday that Rahm Emanuel can stay on the ballot for mayor of Chicago, saying in a unanimous decision that he meets the state's residency requirements despite spending most of the last year as White House chief of staff.

The decision came without a moment to spare; early voting for the Feb. 22 city election begins Monday, Jan. 31.

"The voters deserved the right to make the choice of who should be mayor. And what the Supreme Court said basically, in short, that the voters should make the decisions of who will be mayor," a victorious Emanuel said after slapping backs and shaking hands with commuters at the Clark and Lake elevated train stop near his downtown headquarters.

"The nice part was to be able to tell the news to voters, because a lot of people had not heard it," Emanuel said.

While at the station, Emanuel took a congratulatory call from President Barack Obama. After that, Emanuel left for a debate tonight with the three other leading contenders in the mayoral contest.

The Emanuel residency issue came up as the first question in tonight's debate. Former U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley Braun did not disagree with the court's decision and said the ruling doesn't change the field, since Emanuel has continued campaigning. Candidate Gery Chico said he believes in ballot access and has never challenged anyone's candidacy in his career.

Emanuel said he's looking forward in the campaign.

"Hopefully this will be the last question about it for all of this," Emanuel said. "What's facing the city is not a debate about my residency" but trying to attract jobs and improve schools.

The high court's decision reverses a 2-1 Illinois Appeals Court decision Monday that ruled Emanuel ineligible on the grounds he did not meet the requirement of being a Chicago resident for a year before the election. Emanuel returned to Chicago last fall to run for mayor after serving as White House chief of staff to President Barack Obama.

The Chicago election board and a Cook County Circuit judge had earlier both ruled Emanuel met the residency requirements. The Supreme Court unanimously said the appellate court was in error in overruling them.

"So there will be no mistake, let us be entirely clear," the Supreme Court wrote in its ruling today. "This court's decision is based on the following and only on the following: (1) what it means to be a resident for election purposes was clearly established long ago, and Illinois law has been consistent on the matter since at least the 19th Century; (2) the novel standard adopted by the appellate court majority is without any foundation in Illinois law; (3) the Board's factual findings were not against the manifest weight of the evidence; and (4) the Board's decision was not clearly erroneous."

"I can say the candidate and our camp are very pleased that this issue is finally behind us," said Emanuel attorney Kevin Forde. He pointed to the high court's ruling that the law was long settled. "They make it clear the law has been settled for 150 years."

Burt Odelson, the lead attorney challenging Emanuel's candidacy, declined to comment.

Opponent Gery Chico issued a statement saying "Game on."

"Emanuel's residency drama has made this election into a circus instead of a serious debate about the future of Chicago," Chico said in a statement that argued he is the most qualified to lead the city. "With less than 30 days to go until Election Day, there is no time to waste. Game on."

Emanuel has enjoyed a wide lead over three other major candidates in two Tribune polls.

On Tuesday, the state Supreme Court put the appellate ruling on hold, restoring Emanuel temporarily to the ballot, and agreed to take the case. The justices did not want to hear arguments or receive new legal briefings from the attorneys on either side of the ballot dispute. Instead, they used the material the attorneys already filed at the appellate level.

The high court rebuked the appellate court, which resorted to studying the dictionary definition of "reside" in its opinion. The Supreme Court said it had to make "an assessment of whether the appellate court was justified in tossing out 150 years of settled residency law in favor of its own preferred standard. We emphatically hold that it was not."

About 300,000 ballots were printed Tuesday without Emanuel's name on them until the Supreme Court weighed in with its order to keep Emanuel on the ballot at least temporarily. Those ballots were set aside and new ballots printed by the Chicago Board of Election Commissioner had Emanuel's name on them.

"It's good to have certainty in the citywide contests," Langdon Neal, the election board executive director, said in a statement after the Supreme Court ruling.

"The printing has moved ahead steadily, working all three shifts since Tuesday," Neal said. "We are well into the process with more than 1 million ballots printed."

"It's good to have certainty in the citywide contests launch Early Voting at all 51 sites and start processing absentee-ballot applications on Monday."

A cheer went up at Emanuel's headquarters when the news came out. The candidate was out shaking commuters' hands when he got the news.

"I'm not quite sure, emotionally, where I'm at, but I can tell you what I was doing. I was meeting voters, and I wanted to call my wife first. I called to talk to her and the kids," Emanuel said. "And I called my parents but, thanks to the electronic age, my parents had already heard. And I did get a call from the president."

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