Former White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel cleared two big obstacles Thursday in his bid to qualify as a candidate for Chicago mayor.
The city's Board of Election Commissioners ruled that Mr. Emanuel meets the residency requirements for the Feb. 22 election and should be on the ballot. The three-member board voted unanimously based on a hearing officer's overnight recommendation that stated that Mr. Emanuel appears to meet the requirements and his objectors failed to meet the burden of proof to disqualify him.
Candidates are required to live in the city for one year before taking office.
Richard Cowen, the Republican on the commission, said Mr. Emanuel always intended to move back to Chicago, and his intent was the most important issue in the case.
"Rahm Emanuel said he was coming back to Chicago," Mr. Cowen said. "The issue is not whether he was appointed chief of staff. The issue is whether he abandoned his residency. ... That's the test we have to apply."
Still, Mr. Emanuel, a Democrat and Chicago native leading in the polls, likely will face court challenges before getting a clear path toward winning the seat of retiring Mayor Richard M. Daley, a Democrat.
Those who object to the board's decision can appeal to the Cook County Circuit Court. The Illinois Supreme Court likely will issue the final ruling.
Burt Odelson, a major objector, said he already has prepared an appeal and that he expects the case to reach the state's highest court within five weeks.
Mr. Emanuel, 51, has rented his Chicago home while living in Washington. He served as President Obama's chief of staff from January 2009 until October this year, and was in the House for six years before taking the White House post.
"Voters should ultimately have the right to decide the election - and to vote for me or against me," Mr. Emanuel said between the recommendation and the board's decision. "They deserve a swift conclusion to this process so the campaign can focus on the challenges facing the city."
The hearing officer, Joseph Morris, a Republican and private lawyer, effectively said there was no evidence during three days of testimony last week that suggested that Mr. Emanuel intended to leave Chicago permanently in 2009 to work for the Obama administration.
Mr. Morris also concluded: "Illinois law expressly protects the residential status and electoral rights of Illinois residents who are called to serve the national government," he wrote in a 35-page ruling, which followed a three-day hearing last week.
He also wrote: "The touchstone of continued residence is the intention of the resident, and not the physical fact of 'having a place to sleep.' "
Among the 26 objections raised during the hearing and rejected by Mr. Morris were that Mr. Emanuel was late in filing requisite financial documents, that he has rented his North Side home and that signatures on his candidacy petition had been photocopied.
Another objection stated that candidates are disqualified if they fail to pay a delinquent municipal debt, which includes Mr. Emanuel because he did not buy Chicago parking permits for his vehicles when in Washington. Mr. Morris essentially stated that Mr. Emanuel has no debt on city records so he could not be in arrears.
During his roughly 12 hours of testimony, Mr. Emanuel argued that he has asked the renters to move out. He also said he still has an Illinois driver's license and continued to pay property taxes and other bills on his home, in which he left such valuables as a piano and his wife's wedding dress.
He decided to run after Mr. Daley unexpectedly announced in September that he would not seek a seventh term, giving the city its first competitive mayoral race in about 20 years. Mr. Emanuel, known for his salty language and arm twisting on Capitol Hill, said months before the Daley announcement that being mayor of his hometown would be a "dream job."
A poll released Wednesday showed Mr. Emanuel, the presumed front-runner since announcing his candidacy in October, has widened his lead in the race over his top rivals, who are all Democrats.
He has 43 percent of the support among voters in a poll from the Chicago Retail Merchants Association. His closest rival, lawyer Gery Chico, has 11 percent. They are followed by former Sen. Carol Moseley Braun with 7 percent, Rep. Danny K. Davis and City Clerk Miguel Del Valle with 6 percent each, and state Sen. James Meeks with 3 percent, according to the poll.
Still, Mr. Emanuel will need at least 50 percent of the vote to avoid a runoff in the nonpartisan race.
"For too long, the mayor's race has been focused on residency, not real issues," Mr. Chico, a former Daley staffer, said after the commission ruling.
Mr. Emanuel already has aired several TV ads. A recent Chicago Tribune/WGN poll has him at 32 percent and the only candidate in double digits. However, 30 percent of the respondents said they were undecided.
c This article is based in part on wire service reports.
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