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Election board: Emanuel will remain on ballot

12-23-10 The Berghoff 17 W. Adams Chicago - 

Rahm Emanuel addresses reporters about ruling thallows his name be placed mayoral

12-23-10 The Berghoff, 17 W. Adams, Chicago - Rahm Emanuel addresses reporters about the ruling that allows his name to be placed on the mayoral race ballot, Thursday at The Berghoff restaurant in Chicago. | John J. Kim/Sun-Times

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Updated: January 25, 2011 2:47PM

Rahm Emanuel is a Chicago resident and therefore can run for mayor, the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners ruled Thursday.

The unanimous ruling in favor of the former White House chief of staff comes after board hearing officer Joe Morris ruled early Thursday morning that Emanuel’s name should remain on the ballot even though he moved to Washington D.C. in 2009 to work for President Obama. After a hearing later in the morning, the board affirmed Morris’ decision that Emanuel didn’t lose his residency status and therefore can continue his campaign.

Board Commissioner Richard Cowen said the ruling was based on the fact that Emanuel never abandoned his residence in Ravenswood, which he established long before he and his family moved and rented out his home. Cowen said that although state law requires candidates to live in the state for a year prior to the Feb. 22 election, he said case law states that candidates only need to be physically present in the city to establish residency in the first place — not to continue it. Emanuel clearly intended to return to Chicago all along, Cowen said.

But Burt Odelson, the main attorney for those objecting to Emanuel’s residency, said Morris’ recommendation was a “poor product” that was “shallow” on facts and case law. Immediately following the board vote, Odelson challenged the decision by filing an emergency request for an expedited hearing with the Cook County Circuit Court.

Odelson’s filing argues that state law requires a “physical presence’’ in the city for the year before the election; the only exception to the law is for those who leave for military service.

But Judge Mark Ballard, who received the emergency request, said he saw no reason to compel Emanuel’s lawyers to have to work over the Christmas weekend and compile a response to Odelson’s filing by Monday, as Odelson asked. Instead, Ballard set a hearing for noon on Tuesday. At that point, most of the 30 other objectors who participated in the residency challenge will likely have also filed their appeals to the court, and their cases could be consolidated with Odelson’s.

Odelson implied that Thursday’s elections board ruling had political undertones: he said in previous cases he’s argued before the board under similar circumstances, candidates have been thrown off the ballot.

“The difference is the candidate,” Odelson said.

Emanuel’s attorneys said no two residency cases are the same and Emanuel’s national profile, giant campaign war chest and clout at City Hall didn’t sway the decision. Any “Joe Blow” would have remained on the ballot, attorney Kevin Forde said.

“If Joe Blow was a cook at the White House, he would have won it on [the same] two grounds,” Forde said. “The law here is very clear and has been applied to Joe Blow all throughout history.”

Cowen agreed, saying the law was so clear that “it was not a difficult case to decide.”

The major question on residency, Cowen said, was whether Emanuel “abandoned that residency by any of the acts that occurred subsequent to his accepting the appointment.”

The collection of objectors argued it was common sense that because Emanuel didn’t live in Chicago while serving in Washington, he wasn’t a “resident” in the year prior to the upcoming February 22 election, which is required by state law.

But state case law regarding residency dating to the 1800s was on Emanuel’s side, the board ruled following more than two hours of testimony from Emanuel’s attornies and objectors Thursday.

Earlier Thursday, Morris released his ruling that 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.

“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 outweighs his not “having a place to sleep” in Chicago for purposes of qualifying as a resident, Morris wrote.

Emanuel, who talked to reporters after shaking hands with diners at The Berghoff in the Loop, said he was pleased with Morris’ recommendation and the board’s decision.

Now, he plans to remain focused on campaign issues while appeals play out in court.

“The board made the decision. They saw that I had worked for President Obama, that I owned a home here, paid property taxes here, that I was a congressman from here. . . . The voters deserve a right to now make their decision. So, let the voters make their choice,” Emanuel said. “And I believe to do that you have the campaign focus on the challenges the city and every neighborhood has, good schools, safe streets and a strong economy so we can get the jobs we need.”

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.

Odelson has said he always expected he would have to win the case in court. The case will almost certainly end up before the Illinois Supreme Court. That process could take five weeks.

“We will have to get into the court system to prevail where there is no fear of repercussions,” he said previously.

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