CHICAGO — Chicagoans are having no trouble summing up their thoughts about the drama now before the Illinois Supreme Court over Rahm Emanuel’s name appearing on next month’s mayoral ballot. Some call it ridiculous and confusing. Others, just plain baloney.
But whether or not they had planned to support Emanuel, voters expressed two prevailing sentiments Wednesday: Let the former White House chief of staff run so the voters can decide and, no matter how embarrassing or maddening the latest election spectacle has become, it’s vintage Chicago politics.
“If we’re not going to allow choice to happen, then we’re really not a democratic society,” said Dan Murphy, a coffee shop owner in Chicago’s East Village who signed a petition to get one of Emanuel’s rivals on the ballot but hasn’t decided how he’ll vote. “What can choice hurt?”
Emanuel – who’s leading in the polls and has far more money than his competitors – has been fighting for two months to keep his name on the ballot after dozens of people claimed the former White House chief of staff didn’t meet a requirement that candidates live in Chicago for the year before an election.
The Chicago Board of Election Commissioners and a Cook County judge said he did, but on Monday an appellate court threw him off the ballot because he had been living for two years in Washington working as White House chief of staff. Emanuel, who moved back to Chicago in October to run for mayor, argues he’s a resident because he owns a house here, votes and pays taxes here and was only away serving his country.
The issue now is in the hands of the Illinois Supreme Court, where a decision could be announced as early as Thursday.
The appeals court ruling caused serious disruptions for election officials hoping to start printing ballots, and possibly some uncertainty for those considering voting early or giving Emanuel money. But across the city Wednesday, many Chicagoans appeared less surprised by the city’s latest political spectacle than upset at the perceived disruption to the democratic process.
“If he’s got a house, he must be a resident,” said 50-year-old West Side resident Robert Hill Jr., who calls Emanuel “an excellent choice” for mayor.
Howard Noel, who’s in the maintenance supply business, said he planned to vote for Emanuel and called the residency hearings “grossly unfair.” He also said the ballot fiasco reinforces the stereotype that Chicago politics are crooked.
“Rahm is a get-it-done kind of guy,” said Noel, 71. “I don’t care if he’s from Pittsburgh. If he can lead, let him lead. It’s not like he was spending time in jail. It’s an honor to work at the White House.”
To be sure, a good number of voters probably don’t think Emanuel should be on the Feb. 22 ballot to replace retiring Mayor Richard M. Daley.
“It’s fair because he doesn’t live here,” said Celesteno Orta, a 60-year-old retiree who lives in the city’s heavily Mexican Pilsen neighborhood and plans to vote for former Chicago schools chief Gery Chico.
The week’s developments proved beneficial for some and downright confusing for others.
For Emanuel’s main rivals – Chico, former U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley Braun and city Clerk Miguel del Valle – it was a chance to capitalize on his dilemma and try to convince voters to give them another look. Emanuel was the clear front-runner in a recent Chicago Tribune/WGN poll with 44 percent of all voters surveyed saying they would vote for him; he led among white, black and Hispanic voters.
For Chicago election officials who ordered 2 million ballots without Emanuel’s name on them after Monday’s appellate court ruling, it’s been chaotic.
They literally had to stop the presses midday Tuesday when the Illinois Supreme Court agreed to take Emanuel’s case and told them not to print ballots without his name. By then, nearly 300,000 invalid ballots had been printed; they resumed printing ballots with his name.
Now the confusion could extend to voters, with early voting starting Monday.
Chicago Board of Election Commissioners Chairman Langdon Neal said voters with any doubts should wait until the Supreme Court decision. If Emanuel doesn’t end up on the ballot, any votes cast for him would not be counted – and there would be no do-overs.
Fifty-seven-year-old part-time waitress Mary Tomaszewski called the situation “just baloney” and said it never should have gotten this far.
“I think it’s totally ridiculous because no person is ever going to want to take another job for fear if they come back to their home they aren’t going to be able” to run for political office, Tomaszewski said. “To me it’s like common sense, you know? This just looks childish.”
Flora Gregg, a 57-year-old laid off bank worker who lives in President Barack Obama’s South Side neighborhood, said if Emanuel isn’t allowed on the ballot, she’s ready to protest.
“What are they gonna do when the president comes back, not consider him a Chicago resident?” Gregg said.
Some have another take.
After two decades of relatively tame mayoral races in which Daley was a virtual shoo-in, the election spectacle may be maddening, but at least it’s not boring.
“It’s more interesting than having no point of contention in the race,” said Murphy, the coffee shop owner. “Mayors are traditionally kind of like goofballs.”