ONE OF President Obama’s closest advisers suffered an unexpected setback yesterday in his ambition to become mayor of Chicago after a panel ruled that he did not meet the eligibility requirements.
Rahm Emanuel gave up his job as the White House chief of staff last year to pursue his lifelong dream of becoming mayor of his and Mr Obama’s home city.
His opportunity came up sooner than expected because of the surprise announcement of the incumbent, Richard Daly, that he would not seek re-election.
Mr Daly’s early departure left in doubt Mr Emanuel’s eligibility to run. He had moved out of Chicago and rented out his home to take up one of the most powerful jobs in the US.
He won two previous rulings on his eligibility by the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners and a Cook County judge. But an appellate panel ruled 2-1 yesterday that he did not meet the residency standards requiring him to maintain a household in Chicago for a year before the election.
The ruling was a stunning blow for Mr Emanuel, who was streets ahead of his Democratic rivals in the polls and the funds he had raised. He already has more than $US10million in advance of the February 22 election.
“It’s a surprise,” Kevin Forde, his lawyer said, confirming that he would make an appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court on the basis of the dissenting judge’s opinion.
Mr Emanuel had argued that the election law allowed a dispensation for those who were away from the city in government service, but the judges said that the exception only applied to military personnel.
Mr Emanuel insisted that the rental of his home was temporary and noted that he had left personal possessions stored there – including his wife’s wedding dress – which showed an intention to return.
But Mr Emanuel ran into trouble when his tenant, Rob Halpin, refused to break the lease and vacate the property, allowing him to move back. Mr Halpin then joined the mayoral race himself but has since dropped out.
The panel said yesterday that although Mr Emanuel owned the house he did not live there and thus could not claim residency.
Mr Emanuel moved back from Washington in the autumn, taking up residence in a rented apartment. The ruling ordered “that the candidate’s name be excluded, or if necessary, be removed, from the ballot”.
Responding to the ruling, Mr Emanuel said last night that he had no doubt that he would prevail in the legal battle to add his name to the ballot.