December 1, 2010


Can you say: "Mayor Gery Chico"? Can you say: "Boss Ed Burke who pulls Mayor Chico's strings"?

Chicago's mayoral election is slightly less than 90 days away, but here's a very plausible prediction: Rahm Emanuel will not be elected mayor on Feb. 22 or in the April 5 runoff. In fact, he will not get any votes. That's because he will not be on the ballot, due to his problematic residency in Chicago.

As of Nov. 22, the last day to submit nominating petitions, 20 candidates had filed for mayor. Emanuel, the recently resigned White House chief of staff and a Northwest Side congressman from 2003 to 2009, submitted petitions bearing more than 90,000 signatures. Virtually every white Democratic committeeman north of the Eisenhower Expressway supports Emanuel and circulated his petitions. None of the Southwest Side white committeemen have done so.

Of the 20 filed candidates, 10 are credible. Emanuel is the only viable white candidate. Six are black: Danny Davis, Carol Moseley Braun, James Meeks, Dock Walls, Roland Burris and Patricia Van Pelt Watkins. Three are Hispanic: Chico, Miguel Del Valle and Wilfredo de Jesus. Chicago's electorate is roughly 50 percent white, 40 percent black and 10 percent Hispanic. With no other credible white candidate running, and with nine candidates fractionalizing the non-white vote, Emanuel is a certainty to get at least 40 percent of the vote and make the runoff -- if he's on the ballot.

A recent poll pegged Emanuel at 39 percent, to 12 percent for Braun and 7 percent for Chico.

At the close of filing, something quite curious occurred. Rob Halpin, the unknown and politically unsophisticated tenant who rented the Ravenswood home formerly occupied (and still owned) by Emanuel and his family since early January of 2009, filed petitions to run for mayor bearing 20,000 signatures. He claims that "friends and family" passed his petitions.

Halpin is, in the political vernacular, a "shill." However, his role is not to drain votes from Emanuel, but rather to dramatize Emanuel's residency issue. How can two candidates for mayor have occupied the same house at the same time?

According to Democratic sources, the bulk of Halpin's 20,000 signatures came from the South Side, in and around Burke's 14th Ward, with some from the 19th Ward. It takes 12,500 signatures to get on the ballot. South Side Democratic committeemen are less than thrilled, if not outright hostile, to the prospect of a non-South Side, non-Irish, Jewish mayor from the North Side.

Since West Side Mayor Anton Cermak's assassination in 1932, Chicago has had eight mayors, five of whom were Irish and from Bridgeport and the 11th Ward. They controlled City Hall for 68 of those 78 years. Black South Siders Harold Washington and Gene Sawyer served for 6 years. The only North Side mayor since 1932 was Jane Byrne, of Sauganash, who lasted only one 4-year term.

Halpin is not a serious candidate. But the challenge to Emanuel is quite serious.

This columnist has been an attorney for 32 years and has practiced election law since the early 1980s. Based upon that experience, here are my observations:

Fact Number One:  Chicago is a "home rule" entity. It sets its own ballot access laws. Chapter 24 of the Municipal Code requires a 1-year residency for mayoral candidates, which has been construed to be 1 year prior to the date of election, not the date of being sworn in as mayor. Chicago Board of Elections case law puts the burden on the objector to prove nonresidency by a "preponderance of evidence," with "doubts resolved in favor of ballot access." Further, the board has ruled that the "lifestyle of the candidate is not a test of residency." In effect, a toothbrush, a cot, a voter card and a driver's license are sufficient.

To prevail, Emanuel's objector must prove conclusively that the candidate and his family physically resided elsewhere than Chicago since Feb. 22, 2010.

That is a foregone conclusion. While he was in Congress, Emanuel's family resided in Ravenswood. Once he joined the Obama Administration, he and his family moved their "physical presence" to Washington, D.C., enrolled his children in school, and gave a 2-year lease of his home to Halpin, for $5,000 per month, effective in January of 2009. In September of 2010, Emanuel extended his lease to Halpin for an additional year, until the end of 2011. Emanuel still owns the property on Hermitage Avenue, and he pays property taxes.

Fact Number Two: Resident does not necessarily mean voter. The board has ruled that a candidate "need not be a voter at his place of residence," only that he be a "qualified voter" somewhere in the municipality. Under current statutes, homeless people can vote from under a bridge or a street corner. Emanuel now avers to "reside" in a rental condominium which he leased in September of 2010, but he still voted provisionally on Nov. 2 out of his Hermitage house, even though he had been stricken from voter rolls for nonresidency.

Fact Number Three: Residency is not based on "specific intent." Is it not a state of mind. President Barack Obama, for example, uprooted his family from Hyde Park to the White House, but he didn't rent his home, and nobody questions his Chicago residency. U.S. senators and representatives are elected to serve in Washington, and many move their families to Virginia or Maryland and buy homes, but they still vote out of their state or districts, even if they are present only a few days a month.

But Emanuel, from 2009 onward, was not a resident of Chicago any days per month. If he returned, it was transitory and not with his family. Like Obama, Emanuel was elected to serve in Washington in 2008, but he chose to resign and relocate permanently to Washington. It was only when Mayor Rich Daley retired and a Republican congressional "wave" was imminent that Emanuel decided to return home. Emanuel's attorneys assert that he always intended to return, as evidenced by his votes from the Hermitage address in 2009 and 2010. If so, why did he extend the lease on the home?

The situation is reminiscent of Hilary Clinton's machinations in 2000: She was a voter in Arkansas, she lived in the White House for 8 years, and she re-registered in New York in 2000 to run for U.S. senator. Under the U.S. Constitution, a senator must be a resident of the state, but there is no prior residency period. Not so in Chicago.

In 1983, 29th Ward aldermanic candidate Iola McGowan claimed she lived in a boarded-up building without electricity on the West Side and that she used portable lights and a kerosene stove during the five nights a week she inhabited the home. She got her mail elsewhere. Her claim was ridiculous, and she was removed from the ballot.

Outlook: With Emanuel in the race, an Emanuel-Chico or Emanuel-Davis matchup in the April runoff is likely. Emanuel will get at least 80 percent of the white vote, or 40 percent of the total vote. The Hispanic vote will be divided between Chico and City Clerk Miguel del Valle, both of whom will be seeking white votes. With six black candidates dividing 40 percent of the vote, it will be a chore to win half, or 20 percent of the total vote, but Davis, a West Side congressman, has the best chance. If Chico gets over half the Hispanic vote and 20 percent of the white vote, he finishes with 15 to 17 percent of the vote. If Burke and other South Side committeemen push Chico, he could finish with over 20 percent of the vote.

If Emanuel is bounced from the ballot, Chico becomes the least unacceptable non-white candidate. After all, he was Daley's chief of staff, the Chicago Board of Education president and the City Colleges of Chicago top executive. Every pro-Daley white committeeman would back Chico, and, if he is elected mayor, Chico would be under the thumb of the white committeemen who put him in that position.

Here are some interesting developments in aldermanic contests:

30th Ward (Logan Square): The now-extinct Hispanic Democratic Organization was instrumental in Ariel Reboyras' election as alderman in 2003, when he got 77 percent of the vote (4,561 votes). Reboyras was reelected in 2007 with 70 percent of the vote (3,436 votes). He has been a Daley stooge in the City Council, and his ward voter base is, at best, tenuous.

The liberal del Valle led the anti-HDO element in this heavily Puerto Rican area, and he is backing Willie Delgado, his successor as senator, against Reboyras. The incumbent is supported by Joe Berrios, the party's county chairman and a Board of Review commissioner who was elected assessor on Nov. 2. Also running are Doug Cannon, Stella Nicpon and Chester Hornowski.  Reboyras is in trouble.

In the 47th Ward (North Center, Ravenswood), 35-year Alderman Gene Schulter is poised to get Berrios' job at the Board of Review. The post will be filled by chief county judge Tim Evans, who served with Schulter during the 1980s. In expectation of Schulter's departure, Tom O'Donnell, a top aide to county Sheriff Tom Dart and a longtime ward precinct captain, filed petitions for alderman, with three others. If Evans makes the pick, O'Donnell will seamlessly slide into the aldermanic job.