In Illinois, Emanuel is back on track

Rahm Emanuel can run for mayor of Chicago, after all.

A unanimous Illinois Supreme Court on Thursday reversed a lower court ruling that had thrown the race into chaos four days earlier by declaring the former White House chief of staff ineligible for the Feb. 22 ballot.

The lower court argued that he did not meet the requirement that candidates live in the city for the full year before an election - a ruling that stunned the city's political establishment and even drew a rebuke from President Obama, Emanuel's former boss.

But Thursday night, as Emanuel prepared for another debate against his opponents, he celebrated with supporters and took a congratulatory call from Obama.

"I'm relieved for the voters and I'm relieved for the city," Emanuel told reporters as he greeted voters at a train station, according to NBC-Chicago's Web site. "The nice part is to tell the news to voters, but I immediately called my wife, my parents, and I took a call from the president of United States."

Now, with early voting set to begin Monday, Emanuel's name will be on the ballot. And, with wide leads in fundraising and polling, he is heavily favored to beat his three major rivals, perhaps even avoiding an April 5 runoff.

The ballot dispute, brought by lawyers representing two city residents, had been simmering for months, but the local elections board and a county judge had ruled earlier that Emanuel was eligible.

In a majority opinion, the justices embraced Emanuel's argument that he met the residency standard because he had been serving the country in his work for Obama, paid local taxes and maintained a Chicago home that he had rented out but intended to keep as his permanent residence.

The months-long drama included a spat with Emanuel's tenant, who refused to leave when the candidate returned from Washington last fall, and then briefly entertained a mayoral bid of his own. Emanuel at one point testified that, in leaving 100 boxes of heirlooms and other possessions, he clearly intended to return to the house.

Amid the legal turmoil this week, questions swirled about possible political influence - with Emanuel backers noting that a powerful city council member supporting one of Emanuel's opponents was married to one of the Supreme Court judges.

For their part, supporters of the challenge to Emanuel pointed to comments from establishment leaders, including newspaper editorial boards and even the White House, as evidence of pressure being applied to the Supreme Court.

It was clear Thursday that the tensions spilled over into the high court itself.

A majority opinion written by five of the high court's seven justices ridiculed the appellate ruling for "somewhat mysterious" logic.

"Although adopting a previously unheard-of test for residency that would have applied to all future municipal elections, the court made no attempt to explain what its standard means. The only hint given by the appellate court is that, whatever its standard means, this candidate did not satisfy it," the majority opinion said.

Another opinion from the two remaining justices agreed with the conclusions, but rapped those - including fellow judges - who might suggest that anything other than legal analysis played a role. One concurring justice was Anne Burke, whose husband, Edward Burke, is the city council member backing candidate Gery Chico.

"Spirited debate plays an essential role in legal discourse," the concurring opinion said. But "inflammatory accusations serve only to damage the integrity of the judiciary and lessen the trust which the public places in judicial opinions."

wallstenp@washpost.com

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