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Hearing officer: Let Rahm Emanuel run for mayor

Updated: January 22, 2011 5:53PM

Former White House chief-of-staff Rahm Emanuel early Thursday survived the pivotal first round of a residency challenge that will determine whether his name remains on the ballot for mayor of Chicago.

“The name of Rahm Emanuel shall appear and shall be printed on the ballot,” Hearing officer Joe Morris wrote.

Morris recommended that the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners keep Emanuel on the ballot, even though he moved his family to Washington D.C. and rented out his Ravenswood home to a tenant who refused to leave.

Morris accepted Emanuel’s argument that it was not his burden to prove he had established residency but rather the burden of objectors to prove he had “abandoned” his Chicago residency when he moved full-time to the capitol to be President Obama’s chief of staff.

“The heart of the question of the candidate’s residence is not whether the candidate established residence in the Chicago in 2010, but rather if, at some point prior to, or during, but in any event affecting, the period from and after February 22, 2010, he abandoned it,” Morris wrote.

Emanuel’s clear intention to return to the city after his service to Obama outweigh’s his not “having a place to sleep” in Chicago for purposes of qualifying as a resident, Morris wrote.

Morris’ non-binding recommendation – filed about 1:50 a.m. Thursday – sets the stage for an Election Board vote later Thursday, followed by a court challenge that will almost certainly end with the Illinois Supreme Court.

Emanuel was pleased with Morris’ findings.

“While the decision rests with the Commissioners, I am encouraged by this recommendation,” said Emanuel in a statement.  “It affirms what I have said all along – that the only reason I left town was to serve President Obama and that I always intended to return.  Chicago voters should ultimately have the right to decide the election – and to vote for me, or against me.” 

But Burt Odelson, the main attorney for the objectors, said he always expected he would have to win the case in court.

“I expected more of a hearing officer regarding the decision but it was not unexpected. We will have to get into court system to prevail where there is no fear of repercussions.”

  State law requires mayoral candidates to “have resided” in the city for the year prior to Election Day. The only exception is for active-duty members of the military.

Even after renting out his Chicago home, Emanuel, a former congressman, continued to pay the property tax bill, vote from that address and list it on his Illinois driver’s license and checking account.

During marathon testimony last week, Emanuel repeatedly emphasized that he left 100 boxes of treasured family possessions in the basement of his Ravenswood home, even after renting it out to Rob and Lori Halpin. Those boxes serve as evidence of his intent to return to Chicago, Emanuel said.

Lori Halpin denied ever seeing those boxes, only to let Emanuel’s attorneys into her home, where they found the family heirlooms in a basement crawlspace.

Emanuel’s legal team then returned to the residency hearing with pictures carefully scrutinized by Morris.

Morris is the bow-tied conservative Republican who presided over three days of hearings in the Emanuel residency case.

He bent over backwards to be fair to nearly two dozen citizen objectors whose questions to Emanuel were repetitive at best and, at worst, seemed to come out of left field. (When Morris pointed out to one objector that he was “bending over backwards” to be fair to him, the objector shouted back, “Your bodily posture does not interest me!”)

The hearings attracted national attention, in part because of the spectacle of having a former White House chief of staff who once dictated negotiating terms to Congressional leaders and auto industry executives sitting in the basement of the Cook County administration building answering questions from private citizens for nearly 12 hours.

Earlier this week, Emanuel said he was confident he would survive the residency challenge because of what he called the “compelling points” that he and his attorneys made last week.

“I had just gotten elected to Congress. The only reason I left was to work as President Obama’s chief of staff at the president’s request,” Emanuel said.

“[Wife] Amy and I own the home. We pay property taxes at that home. We vote from that home and [have] our driver’s license address indicating that is our home, holding our checking account here in Chicago. We had stuff in the basement of our home. We have e-mails indicating that we were returning. The people of Chicago deserve the right to make the choice of who they want to vote [for] for mayor.”

Odelson has argued that Emanuel gave up his residency when he rented out his house and that his “intent” to return to Chicago does not suffice. He argues that the law requires “physical presence” in the city for year preceding the Feb. 22 election.

Odelson said he would appeal if, as expected, the three-member election board affirms Morris’ ruling.

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