Rahm Emanuel on the hot seat
By ABDON M. PALLASCH Political Reporter / firstname.lastname@example.org December 14, 2010 11:41AM
One challenger jokingly asked if mayoral candidate Rahm Emanuel was a member of the Communist Party. Emanuel quietly responded, "I enjoyed that," as others laughed. | John H. White~Sun-Times
Updated: December 15, 2010 5:25PM
Around the country, Rahm Emanuel may be known as the foul-mouthed embodiment of rough-and-tumble Chicago politics.
But for 12 hours Tuesday, he faced grilling by experienced lawyers and amateur activists about whether he’s really a Chicago resident under state law requiring candidates reside in the city for a year before the Feb. 22 election. By the end, he was rubbing his eyes, leaning his head back and asking to use the restroom. “I know you’re used to running the show. But that’s not the case today,” Zakiyyah S. Muhammad, a typically uninhibited activist-objector told Emanuel as she launched into her questions. “Do you feel that you’re above the law?”
As he appeared before the Chicago Board of Elections, Emanuel had to answer questions about everything from his tax returns to why he rented out his Ravenswood home if he truly intended to remain a resident of the city after moving his family to Washington, D.C., to serve as President Obama’s chief of staff.
“You’re making a lot of money,” said objector Paul McKinley. “With all that money, why would you need to rent out your house?”
“For the safety and security of the house, it was recommended by the real estate people,” Emanuel answered. The rental agreement said the Emanuels charged their tenants $4,500 a month.
Burt Odelson, the main attorney challenging Emanuel’s residency, asked Emanuel about a conversation with his tenant, Rob Halpin, in the days after Mayor Daley announced he would not seek re-election.
Emanuel said he called Halpin, who had just renewed his lease on Emanuel’s house for a year, and offered to “compensate” Halpin if Halpin would move out early so Emanuel could move back into the house and run for mayor.
“He thought he would consider it, but the wife was, I don’t know if you would say ‘upset,’ she didn’t really want to move,” Emanuel said. A few days later, Emanuel called Halpin back and Halpin told him, “ ‘No, they were not interested in the offer,’ ” Halpin said.
Some objectors offered conspiracy-theory questions from deep left field.
“Did you travel to Waco, Texas three days prior to or three days after April 19, 1993?” Objector Jeffrey Joseph Black asked, referring to the government’s raid on a cult compound during the Clinton administration.
“No,” Emanuel said.
“Have you ever heard the term, ‘Smiling like a butcher’s dog?’” Black asked Emanuel.
Hearing officer Joe Morris cut off Black, saying, “You are allowed to treat the witness like a hostile witness — you are not allowed to be hostile to the witness.”
Emanuel enjoyed an extended laugh.
Odelson took Emanuel through his tax returns, including his 2009 return, in which he declared himself a part-year resident of Illinois.
“Did you review this document before you signed it?” Odelson said.
“It was prepared by my accountant, and I signed it and gave it a first read,” Emanuel admitted. He amended it last month to say he and his wife were actually full-time Illinois residents.
Not only did Emanuel face personal questions about his own family but his friends were fair game at Tuesday’s hearing.
“Do you know David Axelrod?” Odelson asked Emanuel.
“Yes,” Emanuel said he knows President Obama’s senior advisor.
“Where does he live?” Odelson asked Emanuel.
Over the strenuous objections of Emanuel’s attorneys, Morris compelled Emanuel to assess how much time he thought David Axelrod and his family spend in Chicago, Washington, D.C., and in a Michigan summer house.
“I feel like I’m violating their privacy,” Emanuel said of the family. “Sometimes they stay at their place in Michigan.”
Odelson pointed out that Axelrod and Obama can come back and stay in the homes they own in Chicago.
But because Emanuel has rented out his Chicago home, he cannot stay in his house, and, Odelson argues, cannot claim to have “resided” in Chicago for a year before the election.
Morris even asked Emanuel to answer questions revealing he owns a house in Michigan and he is not an Israeli citizen.
Will these hearings damage Emanuel’s front-runner status, his supporters have asked. Emanuel mentioned that he was re-elected to his last term in Congress with 75 percent of the vote.
“This is better than a commercial, isn’t it?” Odelson said.
“Yes, and cheaper,” Emanuel quipped.
When Emanuel answered a question by saying he was headed to a bowling alley after the hearing to campaign, Morris cut him off with an admonition not to politic.
“Really? After 11 hours, I thought I’d slip one in,” Emanuel lamented.
Odelson displayed photos of every room in the Ravenswood home and asked Emanuel to confirm each room and answer whether the furniture in those rooms had been sent to Washington.
Odelson clicked up a picture of a room with a stove, a table and faucets.
“That room is the kitchen?” Odelson asked Emanuel.
“Very good, Mr. Odelson,” Emanuel said to some laughter. Invoking the game show Jeopardy, Emanuel added, “U.S. History for $200.”
McKinley closed his questioning of Emanuel by saying, “I have one last question: Have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?
As laughter rang out, McKinley said, “No, I’m just joking.”
“I enjoyed that,” Emanuel responded quietly.