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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Rahm and Residency

The news that a panel of Illinois Court of Appeals Court judges have ruled Rahm Emanuel ineligible to run for mayor of Chicago because he is not a resident of that city has mostly been greeted with cheers and jeers from Rahm-bo’s various detractors, Left and Right. Others probably assume it’s a problem that will be fixed, one way or another, before the mayoral primary on February 22.
On this last issue, I don’t think there’s much doubt the ruling creates large and immediate problems for the man leading every poll for the Democratic mayoral nomination. Early voting begins one week from today. And election officials are scheduled to begin printing ballots tonight (the process had been delayed pending this decision), without Emanuel’s name. There’s not much time for appeals or any other sort of maneuvering.
On the broader question of the ruling’s “fairness” (putting aside the proper interpretation of Illiinois’ unusually strict residency requirements for candidates), it’s obviously something of a travesty. Not only is Emanuel a native Chicagoan who has spent most of his life there, and represented the city and state in Congress; he is often said to personify the “Chicago” approach to politics. He’s a non-Chicagoan only in the sense that John F. Kennedy might have been considered a non-Bostonian because he left town to serve in the Navy, the Congress and the White House.
You also have to wonder how Alan Keyes managed to qualify to run for the U.S. Senate from Illinois in 2004 against Rahm’s former boss, the President of the United States, having never resided in the state for a moment until he was tapped to replace a disgraced Republican candidate.
Residency requirements are often hazy and even more often abused, as you might expect in a country where the national elites are typically temporary residents of the capitol, with a remarkable number of them harboring political ambitions “back home,” even if they can’t afford to maintain a physical residence in two places. As you may recall from last year’s political cycle, Dan Coats of Indiana managed to get returned to the U.S. Senate as a Hoosier despite having voted in Virginia for a decade and then buying a retirement home in still another state. My personal favorite residency story involved then-Senator, now-proto-presidential-candidate Rick Santorum, who by all accounts was living in the Horse Country of Virginia while the taxpayers of Pennsylvania bore the cost of an internet-based charter school education for his kids (Santorum eventually decided to home-school the kids).
Since there’s zero doubt Emanuel intended to remain a Chicagoan, and did nothing that cost the people of his city or state a dime for living elsewhere for a couple of years, it’s weird he could be disqualified. If he’s a carpetbagger, then so was Scarlett O’Hara.

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