CHICAGO (AP) — The Chicago Board of Election Commissioners began hearing the residency challenge against Rahm Emanuel on Thursday after a hearing officer recommended overnight that the former White House chief of staff's name should appear on the February 22 ballot for Chicago mayor.
Election board hearing officer Joseph Morris said the evidence showed that Emanuel had no intention of terminating his residency in Chicago, left the city only to work for President Barack Obama and often told friends he intended to live in Washington for no more than two years.
But more than two dozen people have challenged Emanuel's candidacy, contending he didn't meet a one-year residency requirement because he left Chicago to work for Obama in Washington, D.C. He quit his job as Obama's top aide and moved back to Chicago in October after Mayor Richard M. Daley announced he wouldn't seek a seventh term.
The board is expected to make a ruling on the residency question Thursday, though any outcome is likely to be appealed to the courts.
At the beginning of Thursday's meeting, the three-member board opened the floor for some of the more than two dozen objectors to react to Morris' recommendation.
"The recommendation turns the law of residency on its head," said veteran elections lawyer Burt Odelson, one of the lead objectors to Emanuel's candidacy. He said Morris' recommendation was "disappointing."
Another objector, Lora Chamberlain, argued that the decision was "very simple" — that since Emanuel didn't physically move back to Chicago until last fall, he was not legally allowed to appear on the ballot.
"That was still 6 ½ months short of what was necessary," Chamberlain said. "Please, just be true to the law."
The elections board is made up of two Democrats and a Republican. They are not bound to accept the recommendation of Morris, a Republican who maintains his own private law practice in Chicago but has worked for years as a hearing officer for the board.
"The hearing officer is sort of like an Italian traffic signal — it's a mere suggestion. He is basically giving his opinion," Paul Green, a political scientist at Roosevelt University in Chicago, said before the ruling was issued.
Emanuel is part of a crowded field of more than a dozen candidates, including former U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley Braun, U.S. Rep. Danny Davis, former school board president Gery Chico, City Clerk Miguel del Valle and state Sen. James Meeks, the pastor of a South Side mega church.
Since returning to Chicago in October to run for mayor, Emanuel has enjoyed strong name recognition in the race and already has run several television ads. A recent Chicago Tribune/WGN poll showed Emanuel as the only candidate in double digits with more than 30 percent support, although 30 percent remained undecided.
In his recommendation, Morris wrote that the question wasn't whether Emanuel established residency in Illinois in 2010, but whether he abandoned it. Morris said he found no evidence that Emanuel had done so, arguing that "the touchstone of continued residence is the intention of the resident, and not the physical fact of 'having a place to sleep.'"
Morris also noted that Emanuel was born and married in Chicago, owns a home in the city where he still keeps valuable possessions, has an Illinois driver's license and voted in Chicago in every election between 1999 and February 2010.
"Illinois law expressly protects the residential status and electoral rights of Illinois residents who are called to serve the national government," Morris, a Republican attorney in private practice in Chicago, wrote in his 35-page ruling.
Morris' ruling, issued just before 2 a.m. Thursday, came after a marathon three-day hearing last week in which Emanuel was grilled by a long parade of objectors to his candidacy, many of whom represented themselves and veered off into questions that had little to do with Emanuel's place of residence.
The serious, at times strange hearing explored the contents of the basement of Emanuel's home where he said he left many prized family possessions, including his wife's wedding dress — further proof he always intended to return to Chicago, he and his lawyers argued.
The comments by objectors at Thursday's meeting also strayed from the strict residency issue the board was addressing, as they did at last week's three-day hearing overseen by Morris.
"This is a sad day in Chicago, I must say. How low are you truly willing to go?" said Queen Sister Georgetta Deloney, an objector who stood out at last week's hearings because of her colorful hats. "Rahm Emanuel is a great pretender. He has hoodwinked and bamboozled the nation."
A former congressman from Chicago's North Side, Emanuel said he only moved his family to Washington because he couldn't turn down Obama's offer to be chief of staff. Emanuel's wife, Amy Rule, and the couple's three children still live in Washington and will remain there until the end of the school year.
The hearing focused heavily on Emanuel's home, with objectors contending he wasn't a resident partly because he rented out his house when his family joined him in Washington in the summer of 2009.
Emanuel said he leased his home for safety and security reasons. He tried to move back into his house when he returned to Chicago but the family renting it wanted $100,000 to break the lease and move out early. The tenant, businessman Rob Halpin, later filed paperwork to run for mayor against Emanuel, only to withdraw from the race a short time later.
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