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Rahm Emanuel: Is he a Chicagoan or not? And who #*+@\&% cares?

December 16, 2010 |  2:28 am

Rahm Emanuel testifies at a hearing to determine if he is a legal Chicago resident to run for mayor 12-14-10

Rahm Emanuel is trying to convince a special Chicago hearing officer that Rahm Emanuel is a legal, genuine, bona fide resident of the Windy City, even though said Rahm Emanuel has been residing 596 miles distant working long hours in a high-profile job for Barack Obama, receiving mail, swearing a whole lot and being paid by U.S. taxpayers.

The issue is not a parochial one.

According to Chicago law, you must be a resident of Chicago for one full calendar year to run for the office of mayor. That's a big honking job because it....

...controls the Democratic machine that controls all 50 wards and can decide things like whether some South Side community organizer gets to be a state senator, stay a state senator and run successfully for the U.S. Senate.

This law means that Rahm Emanuel would have to be living in Chicago from last February, which he clearly wasn't. That's because no one knew then that the current mayor, Richard M. Daley, was going to retire, so no one could look like they were preparing to challenge him, if they wanted to have any future political life above the PTA level.

The late February vote will be the first open election with no incumbent or Daley on the ballot in more than 60 years. A rare opportunity to launch a new dynasty and pack the place with your own people.

Today will be the third day of the contentious hearing over the residency of Rahm Emanuel, who's tried to project a calm, good-natured mien even during snotty questioning from opponents who better change their municipal residency if Rahm Emanuel pulls this off.Two smiling Chicago Democrats

Which, of course, he will because that is the Chicago way.

Emanuel and his wife maintain that they maintain residency regardless of their actual whereabouts. Before becoming Obama's chief of staff, Emanuel served four terms in the House, where he helped recruit many of his Democratic Party's majority until they were whacked by Republicans on Nov. 2.

Before the House, of course, Emanuel was a White House advisor and campaign finance aide to Bill Clinton, another job that kept him out of the city with broad shoulders.

The Emanuels cite as proof of their residency intentions the annual purchase of city vehicle stickers and storage of cherished personal belongings like a wedding dress and baby clothes in their North Side home.

The tenants who leased that home and refused to leave early have said they know nothing of 30 boxes of precious belongings stashed somewhere secret.

And Rahm Emanuel's potential mayoral competitors drive for a literal interpretation of residency because they've seen a new Chicago Tribune poll showing Emanuel leading undecideds, 32% to 30%, with the other candidates jostling down in the single digits. Emanuel continues to campaign, shaking commuters' hands and saying he must talk about real city issues, not what's in his basement.

The poor hearing officer is Joseph Morris. In a few days he will issue a nonbinding recommendation to the city's Board of Election Commissioners. Its decision is certain to be challenged in court by someone.

Chances are, however, someone somewhere will miraculously discover an old state law that has a residency exemption for, oh, say, someone working temporarily out of town for the federal government. But that's just a guess.

-- Andrew Malcolm

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Photo: Scott Olson / Getty Images; Associated Press (two Chicago Democrats shown not there).