By Anne E. Kornblut and Aaron Blake
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, January 25, 2011; 12:25 AM
An Illinois appellate court ruled Monday that Rahm Emanuel cannot run for mayor of Chicago, a decision that shocked the city's political establishment and triggered a rapid appeal from the former White House chief of staff to the state Supreme Court.
Since returning from Washington, Emanuel (D) had not lived in his North Side home long enough to meet Chicago's one-year residency requirement to run for mayor, a divided three-judge panel ruled.
The decision, which followed months of unsuccessful attempts to challenge Emanuel's residency claim, came only days before the city starts early voting.
And regardless of the outcome of Emanuel's appeal, the ruling threatened to strip his name from the ballot - potentially putting him at a severe disadvantage in the Feb. 22 election. Elections officials said that unless a court immediately granted Emanuel's request for a stay, they would begin printing ballots without his name so that voting could begin as scheduled next week.
Judges Thomas Hoffman and Shelvin Louise Marie Hall disagreed with decisions from the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners and a Cook County judge that found Emanuel met the criteria for residency because he was working for President Obama and he maintained a home in Chicago, renting it to a tenant.
Hoffman and Hall wrote that the decisive factor was simple: Emanuel had not lived in Chicago for a year leading up to the election. "A candidate . . . must have actually resided within the municipality for one year prior to the election, a qualification that the candidate unquestionably does not satisfy," the judges wrote.
Emanuel has raised more than $10 million and become the front-runner. His fate hangs on whether the seven-member state Supreme Court will agree to hear his case.
"I have no doubt at the end we'll prevail in this effort," Emanuel said at a news conference in Chicago.
Emanuel's attorneys argued that the state's election code allows voters a temporary absence if they are conducting the "business of the United States." His opponents challenged the argument, saying that only those serving in the military can be granted an absence and that the restrictions for candidacy are tougher than they are for voting.
On Monday, the dissenting judge, Bertina E. Lampkin, argued that her court colleagues had erred. "An opinion of such wide-ranging import and not based on established law but, rather, on the whims of two judges, should not be allowed to stand," she wrote.
Emanuel's attorneys are expected to lean heavily on the Lampkin dissent in their appeal. At least four state Supreme Court justices must agree to hear the case for it to proceed.
Burt Odelson, the Chicago elections lawyer who filed the challenge, said he thinks the chance of the Supreme Court hearing the case is "50-50."
"They only rarely take cases," he said. "And the appellate court decision is so lengthy and so reasoned."
Independent legal experts, meanwhile, said they think Emanuel stands a reasonable chance of seeing Monday's decision overturned.
Calling the ruling "absolutely amazing," Dawn Clark Netsch, a former Illinois state senator and comptroller who is a professor emerita at Northwestern Law School, said the state Supreme Court would almost certainly examine the facts in the case from scratch. "I don't think anybody really expected that result. And I don't know that it will hold up once it goes to the Illinois Supreme Court," she said.
Odelson, working with three other private lawyers, filed the challenge on behalf of two clients, a lawyer and a retired city police officer. An elections law expert who worked for George W. Bush's legal team in the contested 2000 presidential election, Odelson said the Emanuel case is being funded entirely by the clients, whom he described as neutral in the mayor's race.
"No one has a horse in this race, not [the clients], not me," Odelson said. "It's a matter of the law."
Since leaving the White House late last year, Emanuel has been at the front of the pack in fundraising and polling.
A Chicago Tribune survey released last weekend showed him with 44 percent support, followed by former U.S. senator Carol Moseley Braun (D) with 21 percent and former Chicago Board of Education president Gery Chico (D) with 16 percent. Before Monday, Emanuel's advocates assumed the only question was whether he would get 50 percent of the vote or be forced into an April 5 runoff.
Late Monday, the Chicago Elections Board placed an order for 2 million ballots without Emanuel's name, with printing scheduled to begin Tuesday.
Staff writers Chris Cillizza and Peter Wallsten contributed to this report.