CHICAGO – As he travels about the city, assuring Chicagoans that he is one of them, Rahm Emanuel must be asking himself why he just didn’t leave his house vacant when he went off to work in the White House.
That’s because a cornerstone of an expected legal challenge to his status as a Chicagoan – a challenge that, if successful, would knock him off the February ballot and out of the city’s mayor’s race – is that when Emanuel rented his house he broke the rule that a candidate must live in the city a full year before the election.
“He doesn’t have a house. … He’s not a resident if (he’s) renting the house,” said Burt Odelson, a Chicago election attorney who said he’s filing a challenge against Emanuel with the city’s Board of Election Commissioners as early as today on behalf of several “objectors” whom he would not name.
Emanuel has tried to defuse any question over his residency since the day he said goodbye to President Barack Obama at the White House, telling Obama that he looked forward to returning to “our hometown” and even throwing in a reference to the Chicago Bears.
Since then, he’s made his family’s history in Chicago part of his narrative, from his grandfather who arrived here from Europe to his own children, the fourth generation of his family to call the city home.
In recent weeks, Emanuel and his staff have ramped up efforts to do away with the issue. His staff posted newspaper editorials and a letter of their own explaining why Emanuel is a resident on his campaign website. In a campaign television commercial, Emanuel shakes hands with residents and city workers while stressing he’s a Chicago guy, coming home to run for mayor.
“I own a home here in the city of Chicago,” Emanuel told reporters during a recent campaign stop. “My car is licensed here in the city of Chicago. I pay property taxes here in the city of Chicago. I vote in the city of Chicago.”
Emanuel has tried to keep the discussion away from the residency issue, but hasn’t had much luck. Another mayoral candidate U.S. Rep. Danny Davis called a news conference this week to say he doesn’t think Emanuel qualifies for the ballot.
This week, an attorney asked to talk to the media by the Emanuel campaign, Richard Prendergast, said the argument for Emanuel’s disqualification “does not have any merit because of all the indications of intent to return to Chicago when he completed his government service.”
Jim Allen, spokesman for the city’s election board, has said a candidate who leaves the city but maintains registration and votes absentee “has given every indication of intent to return and is considered a resident.”
Odelson, though, argues that the state law refers to those who leave for military service. Besides, he said, all this talk about government service obscures what he calls a simple requirement that candidates live in Chicago for a full year before an election.
“That’s the only issue,” said Odelson.