Bid to knock Rahm Emanuel off ballot for Chicago mayor: Can it succeed?

Rahm Emanuel's campaign calls the challenge filed Friday a political trick by those looking to 'hijack' the February election for Chicago mayor. Emanuel's residency status is again the question.

By , Staff writer

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    Rahm Emanuel leaves the stage after announcing his candidacy for Mayor of Chicago on Nov. 13. Chicago area election lawyer Burt Odelson filed a challenge saying that Emanuel does not meet municipality residency requirements.
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A challenge filed Friday to invalidate Rahm Emanuel’s candidacy in the Chicago mayoral race, says Mr. Emanuel's campaign, is a political trick by forces looking to "hijack" the election in February.

Chicago area election lawyer Burt Odelson filed his challenge to the Chicago Board of Elections, saying that Emanuel does not meet a state law that requires all candidates to be residents of the municipality in which they seek office for at least one year. He filed on behalf of two Chicago residents; on Wednesday, five other challenges were filed separately. Tuesday is the last day objections can be filed to the election board.

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Central to Mr. Odelson’s argument is that Emanuel was removed from voter rolls twice during his two-year tenure in Washington, when he served as White House chief of staff to President Obama. During that time, Emanuel rented out his home. His campaign says he maintained ties to the city by paying property taxes, maintaining a driver's license, and voting in the February primary.

The challenges are likely to complicate Emanuel's campaign, in that a cloud of uncertainty will loom over his candidacy and he will likely be forced to address the issue in public appearances.

Odelson could not be reached by phone Friday by press time. He told WGN radio this week that because the voter rolls cannot prove Emanuel was a resident, he is flauting the state law, suggesting that his voting status may have been reactivated through insider connections. “[Emanuel] voted in the February 2010 primary. On face, that doesn’t say you voted here correctly,” Odelson said.

Odelson added that a 1943 provision of the law exempted active members of the military from the one-year requirement.

In a teleconference with reporters Friday organized by the Emanuel campaign, US Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D) of Illinois argued that the legislation was intended to include all individuals who left their hometowns to serve their country, whether in the military or some other capacity. “I would certainly say the chief of staff to the president [qualifies Emanuel under the law] … if that isn’t public service and a reason to leave your city to serve your country, I don’t know what is,” Representative Schakowsky says.

Several of Emanuel's challengers in the race have cited the residency issue. The Emanuel campaign is asking the other candidates to declare that they have no connections to Odelson, suggesting that political operatives opposing Emanuel are behind the challenge.

“It’s time for the circus to come to the end,” says Schakowsky. “Insiders,” she adds, are trying to “hijack the election” by restricting voter choice.

Phone calls to spokespeople representing candidates Gery Chico and former US Sen. Carol Moseley Braun were not returned at press time Friday.

A poll by the Chicago Retail Merchants Association released Wednesday has Emanuel as a frontrunner, favored by 39 percent of respondents. Ms. Moseley Braun and Mr. Chico came in a distant second and third, garnering 12 percent and 9 percent of prospective voters, respectively.

The Board of Elections will hold a hearing on the residency issue in early December.

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