Hearing officer says Emanuel can run for Chicago mayor

Decision made even though former US chief of staff spent much of last 2 years living in Washington; Emanuel: Chicago voters should decide.

Rahm Emanuel thumbs up 311 (photo credit: AP Photo/Paul Beaty, File)
Rahm Emanuel thumbs up 311
(photo credit: AP Photo/Paul Beaty, File)
CHICAGO  — Former White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel cleared an important hurdle in his bid to be Chicago mayor on Thursday when a hearing officer recommended his name appear on the February ballot.
The decision was made even though Emanuel spent much of the last two years living in Washington working for US President Barack Obama.
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The ruling, which still needs final approval from the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners, is a political win for Emanuel because it could help him silence critics who have persistently argued he isn't a Chicago resident. The board is scheduled to meet later Thursday and will likely make a decision.
"While the decision rests with the commissioners, I am encouraged by this recommendation. Chicago voters should ultimately have the right to decide the election — and to vote for me or against me," Emanuel said in a statement Thursday.
Election board hearing officer Joseph Morris said evidence suggests that Emanuel had no intention of terminating his residency in Chicago, left the city only to work for Obama and often told friends he intended to live in Washington for no more than two years.
"Illinois law expressly protects the residential status and electoral rights of Illinois residents who are called to serve the national government," Morris, a Republican attorney in private practice in Chicago, wrote in his 35-page ruling.
Officials have tried to expedite mayoral ballot challenges before the Feb. 22 vote, but the board's decision is almost sure to be challenged in the courts.
"The hearing officer is sort of like an Italian traffic signal — it's a mere suggestion. He is basically giving his opinion," Paul Green, a political scientist at Roosevelt University in Chicago, said before the ruling was issued.
More than two dozen people challenged Emanuel's candidacy, contending he didn't meet a one-year residency requirement. Emanuel quit his job as Obama's top aide and moved back to Chicago in October after Mayor Richard M. Daley announced he wouldn't seek a seventh term.
Emanuel is part of a crowded field of more than a dozen candidates, including former US Sen. Carol Moseley Braun, US Rep. Danny Davis, former school board president Gery Chico, City Clerk Miguel del Valle and state Sen. James Meeks, the pastor of a South Side mega church.