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Out of race, Gutierrez still a factor

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

OK, so who’s the smart guy here?

U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez, who decided not to run for mayor and who spent the last few days celebrating his 57th birthday by playing golf in Puerto Rico?

Or Rahm Emanuel, who remained in Chicago to campaign in frigid temperatures while preparing for Tuesday’s grilling by citizen-objectors eager to toss him off the February ballot as a non-resident?

The packed hearing room at the Chicago Board of Elections Tuesday had to be one of those out-of-the-Rose-Garden-into-the-maelstrom moments for the perpetually on-message Emanuel. But he held his legendary temper and acid tongue. Why not?

When your story is wall-to-wall on cable, local television and websites, what’s the downside?

Other mayoral candidates got precious little attention in Tuesday’s news cycle, though one was on the phone with the president of the United States while Emanuel was in the witness chair.

“I just finished talking with the president about 10 minutes ago,” U.S. Rep. Danny Davis told me by phone.

Obama had called Davis in an effort to get reluctant Democrats to vote for his truly ugly congressional compromise. One that would preserve Bush-era tax cuts, including for the richest Americans, while throwing the drowning middle class a small lifeline of extended unemployment benefits.

Davis and Gutierrez last week signed a letter saying they weren’t happy with the president’s compromise with Republicans.

Is it hard to turn down a phoned request from the White House?

“It is,” conceded Davis.

On that score, he and opponent Emanuel share common ground. Emanuel couldn’t say no to the president, either, when asked to move to Washington to become his chief of staff. Which takes us full circle back to the mayor’s race and this residency battle.

It didn’t sound to me as though Davis was very sympathetic to Emanuel’s plight, though he has lodged no formal challenge.

“Either you live in Chicago or you do not,” said Davis.

But what about Davis’ own candidacy? There have been plenty of questions about whether he has a campaign that is fully up and running. And whether he is in the race to stay.

“I am first on the ballot,” he said. “No one has challenged my nominating petitions. No one has challenged where I live.”

As for the possibility that he and other African-American candidates, like Carol Moseley Braun and James Meeks, will divide the black vote, Davis’ eyes are as much on an April runoff as the February election.

“If you’ve got five or six good candidates, and I think we do, I think that mitigates against anyone getting 50 percent plus 1,” he said.

Davis, when we talked, was heading to Washington for that crucial vote. So was Gutierrez.

And guess what? The president had just called him too. To say happy birthday and urgently solicit his vote.

Gutierrez was not a bit shy about zinging Emanuel.

“I never thought that a situation could be created where people felt sorry for Rahm Emanuel,” he said by cell phone. “I’m so glad there are candidates who stayed away from this residency challenge. It looks so mean-spirited, which [Rahm] is the consummate professional at.”

Does Gutierrez have a horse in this race?

“I’m going to support someone,” he told me coyly.

The White House can skip calling on this one.

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