Chicagoan or carpetbagger? Rahm Emanuel hit by residency claims.

Rahm Emanuel has rented out his Chicago residence since leaving for Washington. Critics say that violates residency requirements for mayoral candidates and should disqualify him.

M. Spencer Green/AP
Former White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel (r.), has breakfast with Paul Bryson at Izola's Restaurant Monday as he prepares for a potential campaign for mayor Monday.

Just two days into his listening tour of Chicago residents, Rahm Emanuel is having to answer whether he is actually one of them.

Mr. Emanuel's potential opponents in the race for Chicago mayor are seizing on a fine print requirement in the Chicago Board of Elections rules that requires any candidate for mayor to be a resident at least one year before election day.

Emanuel owns a home in Chicago’s Ravenswood neighborhood but has rented it out since relocating his family to Washington two years ago when he became White House chief of staff under President Obama. His current tenant refused his request to cut the lease short. Emanuel pays property taxes and voted absentee, which means it is likely the election board will consider his residency status the same as a member of the military.

But an opponent could file an objection, which might send the ruling through the court system.

The majority of candidates, including Emanuel, have not officially declared their candidacy, and the warning shots against Emanuel are being seen as an attempt by potential opponents to ground his campaign before it gets off the ground.
At stake for Emanuel are lingering presumptions he is an outsider in a city that cherishes its insular political culture.

If the courts are brought into play, the final ruling “will be a real test whether or not the [Chicago political] machine is smiling on Rahm or not,” says R. Craig Sautter, a political scientist at DePaul University in Chicago and a former campaign strategist for Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn.

He suggests that political alliances at the court level will likely play into the outcome. “I bet there’s going to be a lot of politics involved in the ruling and who makes the ruling,” Mr. Sautter says.

While greeting Chicago residents throughout the city’s neighborhoods Monday, Emanuel said Chicagoans aren’t “really interested in my residency.” He defended his claim as a Chicagoan, saying he spent his “entire life, outside of going to college and working at the White House, here in the city of Chicago … so in the next five, six weeks, let’s have a debate about these issues that the residents of Chicago care about, not my residency.”

Emanuel grew up in Wilmette, a North Shore suburb, and served as a US representative of Illinois’ Fifth District, which includes neighborhoods on the far north side of the city. In the race for that seat, Emanuel fought against allegations he was a carpetbagger, a stigma that is part of the “weird insular culture” of city politics, says Steve Rhodes, editor of The Beachwood Reporter, an online media outlet covering Chicago and Illinois politics.

“Chicago is horribly parochial for a large city,” says Mr. Rhodes. The only way charges like the ones leveled at Emanuel are successfully fought in Chicago are “through money and power and force,” he says, adding: “That’s how it works in Chicago."

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