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Marin: Getting on ballot has never been easy

Updated: February 27, 2011 12:31AM

My friends from other parts of the country seem obsessed with the politics of Chicago and our race for mayor.

They call. They e-mail. Good grief, some can even recite the names of the candidates when they might not be able to do the same for elections of their own.

And they all know one name for sure.

“Is Rahm going to make it?” they earnestly ask, using Candidate Emanuel’s first name like they actually know him.

The rules of the road here are sometimes hard for normal people in less politically rabid cities to understand.

Here’s the deal, I explain, using the words the late Mayor Harold Washington used to repeat: “Politics ain’t beanbag.”

In other words, skip the pity party for Emanuel or any candidate whose opponents are trying to throw him or her off the ballot.

“That’s how Barack got there,” said state Sen. Rickey Hendon (D-Chicago) with not a trace of sentimentality on Tuesday.

He was speaking of Alice Palmer, who bit the political dust when Obama wanted to become a state senator years ago and got her tossed off the ballot.

Today, nothing’s changed. For example, let’s go down ballot from the mayor’s race and take a look at the contest for city clerk. It is now a two-person race between Patricia Horton, Commissioner of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District, and Susana Mendoza, state representative from Chicago. But when it first began, there were seven in the race.

“The key of course is you want everybody off,” said Hendon, a Horton supporter. “Mendoza knocked off all the white candidates and we’ve knocked off all the blacks.”

Mendoza disputes that characterization. But the fact of the matter is that she and Horton successfully whittled down the field to just the two of them. And as a result, have avoided a runoff.

Mendoza is utterly pragmatic. “It’s part of the deal,” she said Tuesday. “Make sure all your i’s are dotted and your t’s are crossed.”

In the Emanuel ballot challenge, the two plaintiffs, Walter P. Maksym and Thomas L. McMahon, hardly household names, argue Emanuel didn’t dot his residency “i”.

I couldn’t find McMahon, a retired Chicago Police detective, but did talk to Maksym. An attorney whose cases have included accused wife killer Drew Peterson, Maksym has also worked in the field of election law.

“I believe in a level playing field,” he said by phone. “And I have clients who were city workers where the city requires them to live in the city.”

Maksym says those clients are furious that their residency requirements feel far stricter than what is required, as they see it, for Emanuel to run for mayor.

That, said Maksym, led him to hire fellow election attorney Burt Odelson to take this case.

How much is he paying him?

Maksym won’t say.

Is it a lot?

Maksym won’t say.

Are big-name politicians and Emanuel’s opponents funding this? Maksym insists, “Nobody else is involved . . . I have no dog in this race. . . Rather than play golf, I take cases that are particularly challenging, with a long fairway and a little hole.”

To the outside political world, this looks like a strange story.

To veterans of Chicago political wars and ballot challenges, for better or worse, this is just a new permutation of business as usual.

Mendoza, who is not endorsing Emanuel or anyone else in the mayor’s race, states it flatly: “It would have been incredible for him not to be challenged.”

Rahm Emanuel knows that too.

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