For the first time in ages, the mayor’s race in Chicago isn’t a yawn-fest as the Democratic machine just anoints the latest scion or pawn of the Daley mob. Because Big Rahm’s coming back, and he wants that office.
Rahm Emanuel, son of the Windy City, former Congressman (he served as Democratic
leg-breaker whip), now former White House Chief of Staff. Emanuel is a true son of the city; he’s got all the diplomacy and tact and sensitivity of Al Capone. He’s a product of the Chicago Democratic Machine, a made member of the Chi-Town mob.
But there’s one teeny-tiny hitch in Emanuel’s grand plan: Illinois law. The state has a residency requirement: in order to run for office, a candidate has to have had their legal residency in the area they will represent for at least one year. When Emanuel resigned from the House to serve as Obama’s Chief of Staff, he rented out his Chicago home. That lease ran out early in September, six days before Mayor Richard Daley announced he wouldn’t run again — and Emanuel’s tenant renewed the lease for another year.
So Emanuel has no legal residence in Chicago, where he wants to be mayor. It’s not the first time his house-keeping has been an issue. For five years, he lived in an apartment owned by another House member and her lobbyist husband.
So, back to the mayor’s race in Chicago. By law, Emanuel is not eligible to run for the seat. But will that matter?
You gotta remember we’re dealing with Democratic machine politics here. The law only means what they say it means.
Remember the 2002 New Jersey Senate race? Bob Torricelli was the incumbent, facing a challenge from Republican Doug Forrester. Torricelli was doing well — right up until it came out that he was under federal investigation on corruption charges. So Torricelli withdrew, and the Democratic party chose former Senator Frank Lautenberg to take his place. New Jersey Republicans protested, saying that the deadline for changes in the ballot had passed — by law, the only way a candidate could be replaced would be if they died. The Democrats argued that the scandal meant that Torricelli was pretty much bound to lose, and that was the same as him dying — so they could swap him out with someone more likely to win.
And the New Jersey Supreme Court unanimously ruled that “he’s going to lose” was the same as “he’s dead, Jim” and let the swap go.
So, what does this mean for Chicago? Technically, nothing. Practically speaking, though, it shows that to powerful Democratic machines, laws only mean what they want them to mean in the furtherance of the machine’s goals.
The letter of the law will simply not matter in the case of whether or not Emanuel will be allowed to run for Mayor of Chicago. No, what will be the deciding factor is whether the machine will back him or not. If they reject him, then the law will be found to exclude him. If they accept him, then the law will be “re-interpreted” in some way to allow him to run for office. His leased-out home will be found to “count” as his residence. Voter records will mysteriously appear and disappear to show that he has always been registered in Chicago. Other legal records will back it up (just don’t check to see how dry the ink is). Emanuel will always have been a proud citizen of the Second City, just like Oceania has always been at war with Eurasia.
The entertaining part will be seeing how it plays out. Remember, Barack Obama is also a product of the Chicago machine (which rivals Louisiana for “most corrupt political machine in the country”). Obama’s own rise to power also played out the Chicago way — opponents were disqualified from ballots, their private records found their way to the public, and other nefarious actions all assured Obama that he’d never have to face a real challenge. The one exception was when he ran for the House of Representatives in 2000. There, Obama was up against Bobby Rush, who got the nod from the party machine and handed Obama his sole electoral defeat in his entire life.
So it’s not clear whether or not Emanuel will be allowed to run for mayor or not. That decision has not been made. However, what is clear is that the decision will be made by the machine, not the people or not the courts — and it will have very little to do with the law or the intent behind that law.
That’s the Chicago way. That’s the Democratic way.