It goes without saying that the name Rahm Emanuel has a long list of impressive accomplishments attached to it: from former Congressman and ultimate Democratic Party insider to White House chief of staff.
Now, he can officially add the moniker of “comeback kid” to that resume.
The notoriously foul mouthed, but skillful Chicago pol who has earned both the affection and contempt of the political class won his astonishingly rapid-fire legal appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court this week, finally making him eligible – once again – to run for Mayor of the Windy City.
Emanuel had already cited his father’s universal words only days ago after the Illinois State Court of Appeals overturned a city Board of Elections decision that found him eligible: “Nothing in life is ever easy,” said a seemingly humbled Emanuel at an impromptu press conference earlier in the week. That rang true as the Court of Appeals seemed convinced by a 2-to-1 panel ruling that Emanuel did not meet the one-year residency requirement to run for Mayor, although he maintained a residence, paid property taxes, kept a license and voted in Chicago.
For a period of two days, it seemed that Emanuel’s name would not be appearing on the ballot for the Democratic primary on February 22. Some observers mulled that if Emanuel couldn’t persuade the Supreme Court to see it his way, there was always the write-in option.
But, with $8 million on hand after $13 million raised Emanuel could also afford to get whatever he wanted – if he wanted it bad enough. With the funds to afford a crack legal team to fend off persistent challenges from critics in the courts, Emanuel insisted he was – in fact – eligible, albeit by what some perceived as a stretch of the rules. He didn’t physically live in the Midwestern metropolis, at one time moving his family to Washington, D.C. and renting a house there, but his persona was there in the form of official documents.
The hair-split maneuvering frustrated some longtime Rahm critics, including many in the African American community who charged the former Congressman was rigging the process to his advantage. Openly mulling the Court of Appeals decision, Black Chicago Sun-Times columnist Mary Mitchell observed that “[t]he city has its rules, and the perception is that the exceptions to those rules are for the connected and powerful. Perhaps – the ruling against Emanuel signals that that is about to change.”
The Rev. Jesse Jackson, a national figure and prominent Chicago mainstay, was also encouraged by the Appeals Court ruling, feeling that Emanuel “has to qualify to be eligible.”
But, in a dramatic reversal of that ruling, the State Supreme Court seemed obstinate in its opinion, almost daring Emanuel critics to push the case to any high court legal limits. “So there will be no mistake, let us be entirely clear,” wrote a unanimous Illinois Supreme Court in its 25-page ruling. “This court’s decision is based on the following and only on the following: (1) what it means to be a resident for election purposes was clearly established long ago, and Illinois law has been consistent on the matter since at least the 19th Century; (2) the novel standard adopted by the appellate court majority is without any foundation in Illinois law; (3) the Board’s factual findings were not against the manifest weight of the evidence; and (4) the Board’s decision was not clearly erroneous.”
Emanuel was vigorously shaking hands and getting hugs of support at a downtown Chicago city train station when he took a congratulatory call from his former White House boss. “The voters deserved the right to make the choice of who should be mayor. And I think what the Supreme Court said was basically, in short, that the voters will make the decision who should be mayor. Nobody else should make it for them,” said Emanuel in a Chicago Tribune interview. “Some will vote for me, some will vote against me and that’ll be true for all the candidates. But…ultimately, this decision about who should be the next mayor is for the voters to decide.”
While the suspense of back-to-back court rulings may have been a nail-biter for Emanuel, it may have provided a sympathetic boost to both his public image and campaign. A recent We Ask America poll commissioned by the Chicago Retail Merchants Association found nearly 52% of Chicago voters favoring Emanuel over 14% for Chicago Schools President Gery Chico and 11% for former U.S. Senator and Ambassador Carol Moseley-Braun. 72% said Emanuel should stay on the ballot.
Braun, who was second place and 20 points behind Emanuel in the last Tribune poll, is now barely registering in the most recent surveys despite being picked by city Black politicos as the “consensus” African American candidate. For weeks, Braun had been at the center of a racially-charged offensive, characterizing former President Bill Clinton’s campaigning on behalf of Emanuel as a “betrayal” to Black people in Chicago who supported him.