Chicago panel ready to decide if Emanuel on ballot

A city elections panel is expected to decide Thursday whether former White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel's name will appear on the February ballot in the race to replace retiring Mayor Richard M. Daley, after scores of people challenged his candidacy.

The Chicago Board of Election Commissioners has been reviewing transcripts and evidence from a marathon three-day hearing last week involving more than two dozen challenges to Emanuel's residency from people who say he doesn't have a legal right to run because he lived in Washington for nearly two years while working for President Barack Obama.

Emanuel, who quit his job and returned to Chicago in October to run for mayor just weeks after Daley said he wouldn't seek a seventh term, contends he didn't forfeit his residency because he still owns a home in Chicago, pays property taxes and votes in the city.

The hearing officer who oversaw the proceedings was expected to make a nonbinding recommendation to the panel on Wednesday, but hadn't done so by early evening. A person who answered the phone at the attorney Joseph Morris' office said Morris still was working but didn't know if a recommendation would be made Wednesday night.

Nevertheless, the board — two Democrats and one Republican — was prepared to make a decision Thursday, with or without a recommendation, said James Allen, spokesman for the election commissioners. A spokesman for Emanuel did not return a phone message from The Associated Press on Wednesday.

Officials have tried to expedite mayoral ballot challenges before the Feb. 22 vote, and the board's decision is almost sure to be challenged in the courts.

“The hearing officer is sort of like an Italian traffic signal — it's a mere suggestion. He is basically giving his opinion,” said Paul Green, a political scientist at Roosevelt University in Chicago.

Even so, a favorable ruling from the panel would clear a major hurdle in Emanuel's bid to be Chicago mayor and could help him silence critics who have persistently argued he didn't meet a one-year residency requirement.

Emanuel, a former congressman from Chicago's North Side, said he only moved his family to Washington because he couldn't turn down Obama's offer to be chief of staff. Emanuel's wife, Amy Rule, and the couple's three children still live in Washington and will remain there until the end of the school year.

But objectors said he wasn't a resident partly because he rented out his house when his family joined him in Washington in the summer of 2009.

Emanuel said he leased his home for safety and security reasons, but left behind many prized family possessions, including his wife's wedding dress — further proof he always intended to return to Chicago, he and his lawyers argued.

Emanuel tried to move back into his house when he returned to Chicago but the family renting it wanted $100,000 to break the lease and move out early. The tenant, businessman Rob Halpin, later filed paperwork to run for mayor against Emanuel, only to withdraw from the race a short time later.

More than a dozen candidates are vying to replace Daley, including former U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley Braun, U.S. Rep. Danny Davis, former school board president Gery Chico, City Clerk Miguel del Valle and state Sen. James Meeks, the pastor of a South Side megachurch.

But since returning to Chicago, Emanuel has enjoyed strong name recognition, running several TV ads and faring well in a recent Chicago Tribune/WGN poll that showed him as the only candidate in double digits — with more than 30 percent support, although 30 percent remained undecided.

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