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Chicago After Daley Thu Dec 23 2010
As I write this, the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners has just denied the challenge to the mayoral candidacy of Rahm Emanuel. Late last night, about a day-and-a-half later than expected, hearing officer Joseph Morris recommended that Emanuel be allowed to stay on the ballot. Morris's report is posted at Early and Often and possibly elsewhere by now.
Morris's recommendation, with which the Board agreed, focuses on whether or not Emanuel "abandoned" his residence, following the logic of a post-Civil War Illinois Supreme Court case in which a judge was allowed to keep his position after a couple years in the army. The analogy is not particularly compelling, because the statute at issue today is an Illinois Municipal Code re-write that was enacted more than a century after the Civil War. Sure, if you focus on "resident" as a noun, or "residence" as a status, Emanuel wins -- because those terms are legalisms determined largely by declaration and intent. Emanuel should be able to vote in Chicago -- and has.
The issue is that in addition to saying that a candidate has to be an "elector" of the city, which already includes the requirement of "residence," the statute, Section 3.1-10-5 of the Illinois Municipal Code, also has the requirement that the candidate have "resided," as a verb. The question is whether owning real estate out of which you've completely moved your family, and which you're only using for income and a storage unit -- which is good enough to vote -- still constitutes "residing" in a city, and simply incorporates the legalistic "elector" residency definition as its own, or whether using two separate phrases implies something more.
Normally, in interpreting statues, a court assumes that language wasn't meant to be surplus or nonsense but was put there for a reason (that may give legislatures too much credit, but it's the rule). Since the "elector" requirement already incorporates "residence," saying you have to also "reside" suggests some affirmative action, more than legal technicality, is also necessary. That's the wrinkle that makes the strongest legal appeal. It's also a salient political point.
Why does it matter? Why should anyone care? The Tribune says "he's a Chicagoan" and that ends the discussion. But one gets the impression that the Trib, like many, would applaud Silvio Berlusconi being a candidate if they thought he could get the CTA to run on time, or Chicago's fiscal woes straightened out.
Fact of the matter is, not every person who has real estate in a city gets to run for office. Not even every voter. Let alone every person who might be qualified to run the city. The law, on its face, seems to want candidates to have actually lived there. Recently.
Is it an unreasonable requirement if a state says that, in order to be a municipality's chief exec, a candidate should have spent the last year living as one with the people of that city: chafing under its traffic congestion, suffering the injustice of its taxes while millions are paid out for insider deals or lawsuits against the city, dodging the bullets on its streets and the dog poop in its parks?
A principal problem with government these days is the disconnect, the gulf between those who govern and those who are governed. The chief fail of top-down management is that too many at the top are clueless about who and what policy soaks when it finally trickles down to the bottom. So, yeah, where you live matters. So does how you live. One of the reasons the Current Occupant has survived scandal and deficits is that, in appearance and speech, many Chicagoans accept him as one of their own.
Will Emanuel get such a pass? I was not advising any candidate at the objection hearing. But if I was, I would have asked, maybe, only one question: "Mr. Emanuel, what does it cost to feed a meter these days in Chicago?" Because pretty much anyone who really resides here knows that.
It's unfortunate that the legalistic issue of "residence" is emerging as the biggest consumption of ink and bandwidth to date, rather than, say, schools or pensions, transit or debt. But whether or not Rahm Emanuel survives the legal test, the question of where he has lived remain legit. Where are your head and your heart? How well do you really understand how most of your future constituents do live? That is a perfectly legitimate challenge, that every candidate, in some form, and in more than one forum, should have to answer.