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Editorial

Let Rahm run

Illinois law clearly makes exceptions for mayoral candidates like Rahm Emanuel who have been out of town 'on the business of the United States.'

January 27, 2011

Consider Rahm Emanuel, a man with no city to call home. In Washington, where until recently he served as White House chief of staff, he was often derided as one of the Chicago insiders. And in Chicago, at least according to an Illinois appeals court, he's a D.C. resident who doesn't meet the requirements to run for mayor. The court knocked him out of the Feb. 22 election; the matter is now before the Illinois Supreme Court.

The state's high court should move with haste to make it clear once and for all that Emanuel is a legitimate resident with the right to run for local political office. Voters can begin casting early ballots Monday. The appellate panel's decision threw the mayoral election into a tizzy, and for no good reason.

Illinois law requires mayoral candidates to have lived in the city for the past year. But while it's true that Emanuel, who moved back from Washington to Chicago in October, flunks on that score, the state law is clear that exceptions are made for candidates who have been out of town "on business of the United States." It's possible to interpret that narrowly to mean military service, but the wording doesn't specify such a view; it doesn't even imply it. The chief advisor to the president of the United States conducts this country's business, as do others in the Cabinet, members of Congress (Emanuel represented his Illinois district before taking the job with the Obama administration) and their aides.

Even at a casual glance, it's obvious that Emanuel is no carpetbagger. He was born in Chicago and raised there and in its suburbs. He has worked for both Mayor Richard M. Daley of Chicago and Sen. Paul Simon of Illinois. He served as a member of Congress representing a district that includes much of the city's North Side. He has an Illinois driver's license; he still owns his house in Chicago, which he rents out, and he pays taxes there. He has continued to vote from his Chicago address, via absentee ballot. Compare that with Hillary Rodham Clinton, who moved to a suburb of New York, where she had never lived before, in order to run for an open Senate seat. (New York's residency rules for candidates are more lax than those in Illinois.)

Whether or not you like the famously brusque Emanuel or value the work he did in the Obama administration, there's no doubting that the president's top aide does "the business of the United States." The law of Illinois rightly recognizes such public servants by extending to them the right to run for office.

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