Rahm Emanuel's Chicago Mayoral Pursuit In Flux

The hopes of Rahm Emanuel, the front-runner in next month's mayor's race in Chicago, now rest with the Illinois Supreme Court. Monday, an appellate court ruled that Emanuel lost his city residency when he worked in Washington as President Obama's Chief of Staff — a post he resigned from in October. Tuesday, the state's highest court issued a stay on that ruling, and ordered that no ballots be printed without Emanuel's name. Host Michel Martin talks with Chicago Sun-Times columnist Mary Mitchell and Maria de los Angeles Torres, of the University of Illinois to find out what may happen next.

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MICHEL MARTIN, Host:

Now we go to Chicago, where the mayoral race is an uproar, following an appeals court ruling that tossed President Obama's former chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, off the ballots for next month's mayor's race. Just yesterday, an Illinois appellate panel ruled two-to-one that Emanuel does not meet the city's residency standard.

Emanuel, of course, had quit the White House to return to his hometown after long-time mayor, Richard Daley, announced that he would be leaving office.

Joining us now to make sense of what's going on is Mary Mitchell, a columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times. And Maria de Los Angeles Torres, political science professor turned director of the Latin American and Latino Studies Program at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Welcome back to you both. Thanks so much for joining us.

MARY MITCHELL: You're welcome.

MARIA DE LOS ANGELES TORRES: Thank you for the invite.

MARTIN: So Professor de Los Angeles Torres, what's the legal standard here? As I understand it, as I've been reading about this, it's that the requirement itself is somewhat vague. So what's the legal underpinnings of the decision, if you can tell us?

DE LOS ANGELES TORRES: Well, this is a city that requires residency for city employees, for school teachers. And residency, according to the opinion, is basically, do you live here or not? I think it's a simple straightforward fact whether or not you live here. The issue is not whether you have the right to vote. The issue is whether you have the requirements to run for mayor.

So I think it's pretty straightforward and the judges actually went to the dictionary and looked up residency. And residency means residing in your own dwelling, and we all know that he has not been residing in his own dwelling. He's been in Washington.

MARTIN: But despite that, Mary, my understanding, you know, we've talked about this off and on, and one of the points you've been making all along is he's not the only candidate. But he is the frontrunner. Tell me about that. I mean, on the one hand you're telling us that there was a lot of resistance to his running and actually some resentment. On the other hand, he's the frontrunner?

MITCHELL: Well...

MARTIN: Explain that...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MITCHELL: This is Chicago. And this is a horrible, this ruling that - by the Illinois appellate court, is a horrible inconvenience, has thrown a cog in the works here. You have a $11 million candidate with the support of both the president of the United States and, you know, he has lots and lots of outside support. And it looks like his name will not even be on the ballot. So I think this is an amazing story and an amazing development.

MARTIN: What - who are some of the other candidates, Mary, the candidates who are left? Tell us who they are.

MITCHELL: Well, first of all, you have former Senator - Illinois Senator Carol Moseley Braun. She came in second in polling a week ago. You have Gery Chico, who has done everything from run the, you know, Chicago park district to serve on the school board to just - city hall, chief of staff for Mayor Daley at one point. You have Miguel del Valle, who is now the city clerk. And he too has a record to stand on. You have Patricia Van Pelt Watkins, and I think she is a real dark horse and a long shot, but has a lot of grassroots community support. And you have a perennial candidate, William "Dock" Walls.

MARTIN: OK. And Professor de Los Angeles Torres, you say you feel that the standard is - the statute is pretty straightforward, but there was a 2-1 vote. So what are his options at this point? What are Rahm Emanuel's options at this point?

DE LOS ANGELES TORRES: Well, it will go up to the Supreme Court of the state. They will either decide to hear it or not. They will probably here it. He is - the ballots are about to be printed. So at this point in time he is not on the ballot. So I think that he wants the Supreme Court to halt the printing of the ballot. And that ruling should be happening today. The options are, if he gets - if he is not put on the ballot, there's always another four years.

MITCHELL: Right. But if there's a stay, if they halt the printing of the ballot, that would effectively render the Illinois - a decision by the Illinois appellate court panel mute. I mean, if his name is - if they say, if that panel says he cannot be on the ballot - that his name should not appear on the ballot, and it is printed with his name on the ballot, then, you know, whatever happens, the ruling - decision by the Illinois appellate court won't matter.

MARTIN: Well, you know...

DE LOS ANGELES TORRES: I understand that his name will not be on the ballot at this point. So...

MITCHELL: Right.

MARTIN: Let me ask you this question though. Former United States Senator Carol Moseley Braun has quickly moved to kind of try to kind of get ahead of the story here. And here's her - some comments she made yesterday, calling for Emanuel supporters to come to her side. This is what she had to say.

CAROL MOSELEY BRAUN: I'm hoping that supporters of Mr. Emanuel, supporters, people who are undecided, will choose to join our coalition of conscience, will choose to embrace the message that we have been consistently trying to bring to this city.

MARTIN: I'd like to ask you, Mary - maybe you want to take this - is there any sign that that's happening? Do you see people sort of shifting now in response to this development?

MITCHELL: Oh no, I think that's wishful thinking on the Moseley Braun campaign's part, because there's still(ph) fight left. This is going to go all the way up to the Supreme Court. I'm betting that. And people are digging in their heels. And even if the worse case scenario, that we - February 22nd comes and, you know, we still aren't decided about what's going to happen with Rahm Emanuel, I bet you there will be a write-in campaign.

MARTIN: What do you think, Maria?

DE LOS ANGELES TORRES: Well, I think what's very interesting is that if his name is not on the ballot, we're either going to have an African-American mayor or a Latino mayor in the city of Chicago. And that will be a sea change for all sorts of services, discourses in the city, the vision of the city that we've had for the last 20 years.

So I think, again, it's very interesting. I also think that without Rahm Emanuel on the ballot we're going to have a lot more discussion about issues, as opposed to where his money's coming from - Hollywood, Bill Clinton in town, whether or not Obama's supporting him. I think we're going to need to get down to issues, which I think will be a very good thing for the city of Chicago.

MARTIN: And so this would be the - if Carol Moseley Braun is elected, she would be the second African-American mayor. And either of the Latino candidates would be the first Latino mayor of Chicago.

DE LOS ANGELES TORRES: Gery Chico is the leading candidate in terms of the Latino community. So...

MARTIN: Finally, though, Maria, I do want to ask you, though, whether you think that whoever is elected, in the face of Rahm Emanuel as being struck from the ballot, would face a legitimacy problem, that people would say, like they said after Bush v. Gore, that lingering bad feelings, you know, linger on into the term and undermine that person's legitimacy in the eyes of the people who supported him initially. Are you concerned about that?

DE LOS ANGELES TORRES: No, because, again, residency is something that is so integral to who gets to work for the city. Every day people get fired from the city of Chicago and from the school board because for whatever reason they're not living in the city, they're not residents of the city. So for our city, residency is something we understand.

MARTIN: OK. Excuse me. You're saying even if you outsiders don't. Go ahead, OK, Mary(ph), I heard you. Mary Mitchell, what about you? Final thought from you.

MITCHELL: Well, final thought is that I think it would be the other way around. I think that if you ignore the rule of law in this particular instance, especially when it comes to residency, there would be a cloud hanging over this contest, as if it were fixed in some way for Rahm Emanuel. So I'm looking forward to the Illinois Supreme Court fight.

MARTIN: All right, to be continued. Mary Mitchell is a columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times. Maria de Los Angeles Torres is a former political science professor. Now she's director of the Latin American and Latino Studies Program at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Thank you both so much for keeping us up to date on this fast-moving story.

MITCHELL: Thank you.

DE LOS ANGELES TORRES: Thank you.

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