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Emanuel Seeks Expedited Appeal After Judges Boot Him From Chicago Ballot

January 24, 2011 at 4:36 PM EDT
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A panel of judges ruled Monday that former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel's name cannot be included on the ballot for Chicago's mayoral race because he did not meet residency requirements in the two years leading up to his announcement. Ray Suarez examines the case with Lynn Sweet of the Chicago Sun-Times.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And to a ruling in another courtroom today that upended the Chicago mayoral race.

Ray Suarez has that story.

RAY SUAREZ: With less than one month to go before the primary, an Illinois appellate court ruled in a 2-1 decision to remove former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel from the ballot in the Chicago mayoral race.

Emanuel’s eligibility to run was called into question because he lived in Washington while serving in the Obama administration. Today’s ruling was a setback for the front-runner, but he plans to appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court.

He spoke to reporters this afternoon.

RAHM EMANUEL (D), mayoral candidate, Chicago: When the president asks you to serve the country as his chief of staff, that counts as part of serving your country. And I have no doubt that we will in the end prevail at this effort. As my father always used to say, nothing is ever easy in life. So, nothing is ever easy. So, this is just one turn in the road.

RAY SUAREZ: For more on the fallout from today’s ruling, we are joined by Lynn Sweet. She is the Washington bureau chief for The Chicago Sun-Times and a columnist for Politics Daily.

And, Lynn, why was this case even back in court? A Cook County court said he could run. A Board of Elections decision said he could run. And yet there he is still defending himself.

LYNN SWEET, Washington bureau chief, The Chicago Sun-Times: Well, that’s because this case was always destined for the Illinois Supreme Court. No matter what happened in the lower courts, the skirmish was going to go all the way.

The attorney who is the leading force behind the challenge to Rahm Emanuel’s residency would have brought it to the Supreme Court today if the appellate court had ruled against him, Ray.

RAY SUAREZ: In his remarks today, Rahm Emanuel kept coming back to that idea that he was serving the country. Why is that so important in this case?

LYNN SWEET: Well, it’s important because Illinois law has an exemption from the residency requirement from a Chicago — from a resident who goes to serve the country.

Now, clearly, Rahm Emanuel served the country in his role as chief of staff. But he’s talking about a section of the law that deals with the eligibility of someone in Illinois to vote. So, it’s a more elastic, more lenient threshold to allow people who serve the country to vote.

Now, the part of the law that the Illinois appellate court dealt with today was some other language in the election code dealing with the qualifications for a candidate. And what a candidate has to do is live in the municipality a year before the election.

So, while Rahm Emanuel is focusing on one legal aspect of the case, the appellate court found that the part of the code that talked about having to live in the city a year before you run, a very important part of the law.

This is a very ripe, open legal question, Ray. It has always been a close call, but it’s not surprising that an appellate court found against Rahm, just as it wasn’t surprising that lower courts found for him.

RAY SUAREZ: Lynn, the clock is ticking. The ballots are about to be printed. Early voting starts in Chicago at the end of this month. Does he have enough time to get back in the race?

LYNN SWEET: Oh, certainly. One, he’s never out of it.

Here’s why. He has a formidable lead against his three main opponent — opponents. He’s got millions and millions of dollars more than even the second-place guy in the money race, around $10.5 million — $2.5 million. Gery Chico, and Carol Moseley Braun, former senator, and the city clerk don’t even have half-a-million combined.

This case will be taken to the Supreme Court on an expedited basis, on an emergency basis. There have been many public questions of great public interest like this one that have gone to the Supreme Court, and they have acted swiftly. Their first decision, though, is whether or not to take the case. We will know that soon.

RAY SUAREZ: Today, Rahm Emanuel called it just a turn in the road.

But City Clerk Miguel del Valle, one of his opponents, said that this may be an opening for candidates like him to get another look. Even if Rahm Emanuel gets back on the ballot, does this open up the race a little more?

LYNN SWEET: Absolutely. The — there is political damage that the Emanuel campaign has to worry about even if, legally, they prevail and they’re on the ballot.

What has happened is, is that Rahm Emanuel has run a very good campaign with his millions. He’s well-funded. He has run a mini-presidential campaign, focusing on 50 wards, instead of 50 states. And he’s just overwhelmed his opposition, who — he’s out-organized them, and he’s been very message-driven, very much like a mini-presidential campaign.

Now, everyone in Chicago might know Rahm, and they know the other rivals, but there is a certain amount of fluidity in the race. This is a great chance for some of the candidates, because what you want to do now in the race is at least come in number two on February 22.

Why we call it a primary in Illinois, Ray, it’s nonpartisan. If no the — if one has more than 50 percent of the vote come February 22, the top two finishers face off April 5. So, it’s very much a race for second place and to keep Rahm below 50 percent.

RAY SUAREZ: OK. What happens now? You say there’s going to be an expedited appeal. I guess that paperwork is, where, on its way to Springfield? When will we know whether they’re going to hear the case?

LYNN SWEET: Well, I’m not sure of the timetable right now.

The — I talked to Rahm Emanuel’s campaign a short time ago. They’re also going to ask for a stay of the Illinois appellate order. And an Illinois appellate court just said, don’t put him on the ballot. If you have, take him off.

They want that decision stayed, so that ballots are printed. That might also be a side skirmish in this unfolding legal drama over who will be the next Chicago mayor.

RAY SUAREZ: Lynn Sweet of Politics Daily and The Sun-Times, thanks for talking to us.

LYNN SWEET: Thank you.