Rahm Emanuel is back in the Chicago mayor’s race.
The Illinois Supreme Court returned the former White House chief of staff’s name to the top of the ballot Thursday evening, overturning a lower court ruling that he did not meet the city’s residency requirement to run for mayor.
Mr. Emanuel was the clear front-runner in the race, and the lower court’s decision had thrown the contest into disarray just weeks before the Feb. 22 ballot.
The state Supreme Court voted 7-0 to restore Mr. Emanuel’s candidacy three days after an Illinois Appeals Court booted the Chicago native off the ballot. The appeals court ruling overturned an earlier Chicago elections board decision that Mr. Emanuel qualified as a resident of the city.
“The novel standard [on residency] adopted by the appellate court majority is without any foundation in Illinois law,” the Supreme Court’s ruling said.
The ruling comes two days after the state’s highest court ordered the city to stop printing ballots that did not include Mr. Emanuel’s name.
Longtime Democratic Mayor Richard M. Daley unexpectedly announced plans to step down last fall. Mr. Emanuel quickly announced plans to leave the White House to run for what he had previously called “his dream job.”
Mr. Emanuel, a former Illinois congressman who served almost two years in the Obama administration, has said he always intended to return to Chicago. During his time in Washington, Mr. Emanuel rented out his Chicago house.
Since announcing his candidacy Sept. 30, Mr. Emanuel has dominated the race, garnering national coverage, picking up endorsements and holding a 2-to-1 advantage in the latest polls over his closest rival in the race, former Democratic Sen. Carol Moseley Braun.
He also holds a significant fundraising advantage over both Mrs. Moseley Braun and Gery Chico, the other major candidate in the race, with almost $12 million raised to Mr. Chico’s $2.4 million and Mrs. Braun’s $500,000. All three top contenders are Democrats.
The top candidates were set to debate Thursday night in Chicago even as the high court was considering Mr. Emanuel’s eligibility.
Speaking at the start of the televised debate, Mr. Emanuel said, “What I’ve always said is the voters should make the decision about who should be the next mayor.” He said the court ruling allowed voters to do that.
To avoid an April 5 runoff, Mr. Emanuel will have to pull in more than 50 percent of the vote. Early voting begins Monday.
The drama over whether Mr. Emanuel would be allowed to run has sparked national interest in the race, with pundits, politicians and the public alike weighing in on the efficacy of residency requirements and President Obama’s possible influence on the legal battle.
During the appeal, Mr. Emanuel and his opponents continued to campaign as if the front-runner was still in the race, with Mr. Emanuel making appearances and brushing off the controversy. An Associated Press poll released earlier Thursday showed a strong majority of Chicagoans favored allowing Mr. Emanuel to run.
In his appeal, Mr. Emanuel and his lawyers frequently cited the former congressman’s service to the president, another product of Chicago city politics.
Mr. Emanuel also worked as an adviser to President Clinton, then won three terms in the U.S. House before leaving in 2009 to join the Obama White House.
The Supreme Court in its decision cited in particular Mr. Emanuel’s testimony before the city’s election board in which he listed all the personal items in the house he rented in Chicago when he moved to Washington - including his wife’s wedding dress, photographs of his children and items belonging to his grandfather.
City officials weighing the residency question “determined that, in this situation, the rental did not show abandonment of the residence,” the court wrote. “This conclusion was well supported by the evidence and was not clearly erroneous.”
More than two dozen people testified on the residency issue at a Chicago Board of Elections hearing in December. The three-day hearing got progressively stranger as attorneys gave way to Chicago residents who filed objections to his candidacy, including one man who asked Mr. Emanuel if he caused the 1993 siege at Waco, Texas.
The Chicago Board of Election Commissioners and a Cook County judge has previously both ruled in favor of Mr. Emanuel, saying he didn’t abandon his Chicago residency when he went to work at the White House.
• This article is based in part on wire service reports.