Thursday, January 27, 2011
Image by Getty Images via @daylifeCourt Allows Emanuel on Ballot for Chicago Mayor - NYTimes.com
CHICAGO — Rahm Emanuel’s bid to become mayor of this city may proceed, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled on Thursday, ending a week that had turned this city’s politics upside down, then back again.
The unanimous decision brought a close to months of legal debate over whether Mr. Emanuel qualified for the ballot, specifically whether his time in Washington as President Obama’s chief of staff meant that he had given up his residency status in Chicago, where he was born.
By Illinois state code, candidates for mayor are required to have resided in Chicago for at least one year before Election Day. Mr. Emanuel left the White House in October, and the election is Feb. 22, but Mr. Emanuel argued that he was still a Chicago resident because he owned a house here, paid taxes here, voted here, and left his most cherished possessions in the basement of his house here.
Moments after the ruling was issued late Thursday, Mr. Emanuel was shaking hands with voters at a downtown “L” train stop,, where many had yet to hear the outcome, and asked what had happened.
Mr. Emanuel, who appeared cheery as a mob of cameras rolled, said that he had no control over what had occurred but was pleased that the voters now had some sense of certainty for the election ahead.
“We stayed focused on the concerns of the voters,” Mr. Emanuel said of a week that had, however briefly, sent voters, election workers and other candidates into a tangle of confusion. The word “resident,” Mr. Emanuel advised, would no longer be permitted in his family’s regular Scrabble games. Then he was off to a televised debate of the candidates.
Legal experts said the State Supreme Court’s decision was probably a final answer to Mr. Emanuel’s situation, which has left this city puzzled and reeling, even as early voting is to start on Monday.
“This is the end of the road,” said Burt Odelson, a lawyer who represented two Chicago residents who had challenged Mr. Emanuel’s status, driven, in part, by a notion, that if city workers are required to live within city limits, a candidate for mayor should, too.
Throughout the challenges to Mr. Emanuel’s candidacy, he had confidently asserted that he would be allowed to run, and had proceeded with routine campaign events as if there was no crisis.
The decision is certain to come as a disappointment to the campaigns of other candidates — especially Gery Chico, a former mayoral chief of staff, and Carol Moseley Braun, a former United States senator — who would have benefited enormously from Mr. Emanuel’s removal from the ballot, and had seemed to have entirely new prospects of becoming mayor.
Not surprisingly, though, the other candidates were quick to play down the significance of the entire episode, insisting that they were pleased to at last move on with a real debate over Chicago’s crucial issues.
“Emanuel’s residency drama has made this election into a circus instead of a serious debate about the future of Chicago,” Mr. Chico said in a statement issued within moments of the decision. “With less than 30 days to go until Election Day, there is no time to waste. Game on.”
Miguel del Valle, the city clerk and another candidate, sounded a similar note: “As I have said throughout my campaign, this has served as a real distraction that has kept people from focusing on the issues that are of concern to the neighborhoods of the city of Chicago — our neighborhood schools, public safety, and fixing our budget deficit.”
Ever since Mayor Richard M. Daley, this city’s longest-serving mayor, announced in September that he would retire, Mr. Emanuel has been viewed as something of a front-runner. A wide array of would-be candidates has shrunk to six, and Mr. Emanuel has held significant leads in polling and fund-raising.
The election is nonpartisan, but all the major candidates are Democrats.
Before this past week of fast-shifting announcements — that he was off, then back on the ballot — some voters had begun to wonder not if Mr. Emanuel would win, but when. If no candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote on Feb. 22, the top two vote-getters will move on to a runoff election on April 5.
In recent months, challenges to Mr. Emanuel’s candidacy were dismissed by a local election board, then by a trial judge. But on Monday, a panel of the Illinois Appellate Court ruled that Mr. Emanuel did not qualify to run, saying he had to physically live in the city — not just own property and pay taxes here — to run.
Mr. Emanuel’s lawyers balked at the interpretation, and appealed their case to the State Supreme Court, even as elections officials struggled with which ballot to print.
On Thursday, the Supreme Court’s seven justices overturned the ruling of the appeals panel, though two of the justices issued their own reasoning for allowing Mr. Emanuel to run. In the majority’s opinion, which was written by Justice Robert R. Thomas, a Republican, the justices raised sharp questions about what the appellate court had concluded, suggesting that such questions of residency had essentially been settled in this state for 150 years — until this week.
“Things changed, however, when the appellate court below issued its decision and announced that it was no longer bound by any of the law cited above,” Justice Thomas wrote, continuing later, “but was instead free to craft its own original standard for determining a candidate’s residency.”
The opinion repeatedly cited a case from 1867, in which an Illinois resident had been appointed as a judge, but had been challenged for not meeting a five-year residency requirement because his family had lived in Tennessee for eight months. That long-ago ruling — in the judge’s favor — focused on his intent (he refused to sell his Illinois law books, for instance), not on his physical location, the justices found. The same principles, the justice wrote, control Mr. Emanuel’s case, “plain and simple.”
Under the appellate court’s decision, the justices said, all sorts of circumstances would now come into question: Where does a member of Congress who spends several days a week in Washington reside legally? What about a state legislator?
“Under the appellate court’s test, considerable doubt would arise as to whether any of these people could meet a residency test that requires one year of ‘actually living’ or “actually residing’ in the municipality,” the majority wrote.
Two of the justices, Anne M. Burke and Charles E. Freeman, concurred with the overall outcome, but wrote that they did not consider the case “as clear-cut as the majority makes it out” to be. “Suffice it to say, therefore, that this court has not always spoken clearly on what is meant by residency, and the majority should acknowledge this fact,” the two wrote. They construed the case more narrowly, finding that the fact that Mr. Emanuel had rented out his Chicago home (still occupied by renters) did not mean he had given up his “permanent abode.”
Richard L. Hasen, an expert on election law who is a visiting professor at the University of California, Irvine, law school, said, “The decision puts the matter back where it belongs — in the hands of the voters.”
For election officials the ruling was a relief — not particularly for its content but for its finality. They started the week printing hundreds of thousands of ballots without Mr. Emanuel’s name (as the appellate court had ordered), but by Thursday night were about halfway through printing two million more, this time with his name (as the Supreme Court ordered when it agreed to consider the case).
Emma Graves Fitzsimmons contributed reporting from Chicago, and John Schwartz from New York.