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Serious Emanuel hearing gives way to farce

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

They asked him if he thinks he’s above the law. They asked him if he’d ever suffered from memory loss.

They asked him if he was in Waco when David Koresh and his followers were killed on April 19, 1993.

They asked him if he’d ever been a member of the Communist Party, and that was the only question intended as a joke.

They asked him the same questions over and over and over.

Through it all, Rahm Emanuel swallowed his pride, bit his tongue, rolled his eyes, chewed on a thumbnail and inhaled and exhaled deeply.

But he didn’t lose his temper. He never even raised his voice.

If you knew him, then you knew he was doing a slow burn on the inside, behind the poker face and the bemused smile that some might call a smirk.

But the main outward sign that he was losing his patience came when he got quieter, not louder, as he matter-of-factly answered questions late into the evening from a gaggle of Chicago residents raising legal objections to his candidacy for mayor.

Of course, you didn’t really need to know Emanuel to figure out this was not a normal day in his life, but one he had resolved to endure.

“I know you’re not used to this. I know you’re used to running the show,” said Zakiyyah Muhammad, one of many professional protester-activist types clearly enjoying their rare opportunity to put a former White House chief of staff through the ringer.

Emanuel took the witness stand at 9:30 a.m for a Chicago Board of Election Commissioners hearing into his residency and other matters — and ended up taking questions for 12 hours.

Despite all the questions and answers, I can’t tell you they did much, if anything, to substantially illuminate the issue of whether Emanuel qualifies as a legal resident of Chicago for the prior year for purposes of being a candidate for office.

Most of those challenging Emanuel’s candidacy imagined that if they asked just the right “gotcha” question then they would somehow prove their case against him.

But the most important facts have long been conceded by Emanuel and remain the same. Emanuel and his family moved to Washington after President Obama asked him to be his chief of staff. They rented out their house in Ravenswood. Even now, they can’t get back into it.

What’s left here is a legal question of whether Emanuel did enough to preserve his Chicago residency, an issue Emanuel admitted Tuesday he’d never even contemplated until lawyer Burt Odelson raised the matter after Emanuel signaled his intention to run.

Emanuel says he and his family always intended to return here and kept the Ravenswood house as their official legal residence. Odelson, an election law specialist who I would characterize as the one serious objector, maintains Emanuel abandoned his legal residency when he rented out the house and didn’t take another place.

As I’ve said, I think it’s a legitimate question to raise, although one that ought to be eventually resolved in favor of Emanuel. He shouldn’t have forfeited his right to run for public office here on the basis of serving the president of the United States. It’s certainly possible that the Supreme Court of Illinois will decide otherwise.

This particular proceeding, though, became something of a farce, with even Odelson feuding with the other objectors as he tried to keep them from fouling up the record of proceedings that will go up on appeal.

It didn’t help that Joseph Morris, a former Cook County commissioner who is hearing the case, went too far out of his way to accommodate the fringe objectors instead of shutting them down.

“You’re under arrest, Mr. Emanuel. You’re running out of time,” shouted one of the objectors, a wingnut named Jeffrey Joseph Black, who interrupted the proceedings frequently with his rants — apparently not satisfied with his 30 minutes in front of the television cameras. “He’s blackmailing Bill Clinton. It’s in the Mega-File.”

It was Black who also veered off into questions about Waco, asking Emanuel: “Are you the butcher of Waco?”

He later gave me a business card identifying himself as the communications director of the Jeff Joe Black for U.S Senate campaign.

If only we could get our hands on that Mega-File.

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