Rahm Emanuel's bid to become mayor of Chicago barely started before it ran headlong into controversy: According to election lawyers quoted in the Chicago Sun-Times, he may not be eligible to run for mayor under Illinois law because he has rented out his primary residence in Chicago. Is the former White House chief of staff's campaign doomed before it begins? (Watch Rahm hit Chicago's streets)
What's the problem with Rahm's residency?
Illinois municipal code says that a mayoral candidate has to maintain a residence in the city where he or she is running for at least a year before the election — in this case, Feb. 22, 2011. Beginning last year, Emanuel rented out the Chicago house he and his family own, and the fact that his tenant now refuses to leave is a big problem, two top Chicago election lawyers tell the Sun-Times.
Why do his tenants matter?
He no longer has "a place to sit on the sofa, to keep a toothbrush," says attorney Jim Nally. President Obama would have no problem, Nally says, because "he has a physical location that he owns and has exclusive right to live in." Usually residency cases are tricky because a candidate keeps an apartment in the city "or says he's living in his mother's basement," says the other election lawyer, Burt Odelson. "This is not a hard case." (Odelson worked for two of Emanuel's potential rivals in the race.)
When is the lease up?
June 2011, according to Sun-Times columnist Jim Sneed. "In a strange turn of the political screw," Sneed says, Emanuel renewed the lease on Sept. 1 — "six days before Mayor Daley announced his decision NOT to run for mayor on Sept. 7!"
What does Emanuel say?
His campaign says that election officials "have clearly stated that the overriding legal issue is intent, and the fact that Rahm owns a home and votes in Chicago means he's a Chicagoan."
Does the election board say that?
It would seem so. The Chicago Board of Elections is inclined to treat Rahm "like members of the military who serve overseas in Iraq," says board spokesman Jim Allen. "If you go out of state to work and keep ownership of the property — and keep your voter registration at that address and keep voting absentee — you shouldn't have a problem."
So, what are the chances Emanuel will be kept off the ballot?
This is kind of like the Obama "'birthers,' Chicago-style," says L.A. Holmes at Fox News, and of course all those challenges to Obama's presidential eligibility "were thrown out as frivolous." Yes, Rahm will probably beat the "inevitable legal challenges," says Eric Zorn in the Chicago Tribune. "But equally inevitable will be attacks from other candidates suggesting that Emanuel is a carpetbagger."