POLITICS

Rahm Emanuel Back in Chicago Mayor Race for Now, But Chico and del Valle Gain

In this photo taken Jan. 10, 2011, Chicago mayoral candidate Gery Chico speaks at a news conference in Chicago. Chico, a former Chicago School Board president, is one of two Latino candidates in the race to replace retiring Mayor Richard M. Daley. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)

In this photo taken Jan. 10, 2011, Chicago mayoral candidate Gery Chico speaks at a news conference in Chicago. Chico, a former Chicago School Board president, is one of two Latino candidates in the race to replace retiring Mayor Richard M. Daley. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)

The shadow that Rahm Emanuel's juggernaut campaign had cast over the mayoral race in Chicago has, in light of recent residency problems, receded ever so slightly – allowing two Latino candidates to emerge and grab some of the spotlight.

With the former White House chief of staff's residency again under scrutiny, the two candidates most likely to benefit from the legal mess are Gery Chico and Miguel del Valle. Dwarfed by Emanuel's fundraising, polling numbers and name recognition, the two Chicagoans now seem to be in the best position to snag those Emanuel supporters – Hispanics, whites and business leaders – who may waver in light of the court's involvement.

"It certainly allows people who thought that Rahm Emanuel's election spot in the runoff was a foregone conclusion...to take a closer look at all of the candidates," said Del Valle, the city clerk. "Some for the first time, and some may be taking a closer look."

Ever since Mayor Richard Daley announced that he would not seek a seventh term, the scramble to replace him has been a battle of attrition for Del Valle and Chico. The two have survived mayoral flirtations, including one from Rep. Luís Gutiérrez, as well as pushes from black and Latino candidates who have gradually fizzled out.

And now there's the uncertainty surrounding Emanuel. 

On Monday, an Illinois Appellate Court ruled that Emanuel had not lived in the city since Feb. 22 and as a result his name could not be on the ballot. By Tuesday afternoon, the state Supreme Court had jumped in and ordered a stay on the appellate court's decision – meaning Emanuel's name must be put back on the ballot.

"It is ordered that the emergency motion by petitioner Rahm Emanuel for stay pending appeal is allowed in part," the order read. "The appellate court decision is stayed."

It continued: "The ballots should include the name of petitioner Rahm Emanuel."

The reprieve temporarily brings Emanuel back from the dead, but his campaign is still on life support. The state's highest court hasn't decided if it will even hear the case, let alone reverse the appeal.

And with the overwhelming favorite – Emanuel had raised up to $12 million and received key endorsements, including a nod from former President Bill Clinton – tied up in legal battle, the race has been turned upside down. 

"It shakes things up," said Dr. Juan Andrade Jr., president of the Chicago-based U.S. Hispanic Leadership Institute. "It changes the whole dynamic."

Del Valle and Chico, who have both been involved in Chicago politics for decades, are vying to become the city's first Latino mayor. 

Del Valle, 59, who is Puerto Rican, has the distinction of being the first Latino assistant majority leader in the State Senate in the Illinois General Assembly. Chico, 54, who has Mexican heritage, is the chair of the City Colleges of Chicago. He served as Mayor Daley's chief of staff for three years and a former president of the city's public schools.

"It will be a historic day in Chicago when we have a Hispanic mayor," said Rev. Wilfredo de Jesús, who bowed out of the race earlier this month and has since endorsed Chico. 

However battered and thrown off track, however, Emanuel's campaign still looms large. Undeterred by the court's ruling on Monday, he struck a defiant tone.

"I have no doubt that we will in the end prevail at this effort," Emanuel said, according to the Associated Press. "People of the city of Chicago deserve the right to make the decision on who they want to be their next mayor."

Chicago's 1.5 million registered voters will be given the chance to make that vote as early as Jan. 31. And for now, Emanuel's name will be on the ballot.

The nonpartisan primary is scheduled for Feb. 22.

Whatever the state Supreme Court decides, Emanuel's residency problems leaves the door open for a runoff. If none of the candidates receives 50 percent of the vote, the two top finishers would go head-to-head in a subsequent election.

A runoff seemed unlikely before the court's ruling. In a Chicago Tribune/WGN poll earlier this month, Emanuel was running away with the race, earning 44 percent of voters surveyed.

He was even leading among Latinos, according to the poll, with 27 percent of the respondents supporting him; Del Valle and Chico only had 14 and 12 percent, respectively.

Del Valle, though, isn't buying it.

"I've never believed them," he said of the polls. "I've yet to find a Latino who says to me, 'I'm voting for Rahm Emanuel.'

"I don't know where those votes are coming from," he said with a laugh.

Some Latinos, indeed, are planning to throw their support behind Emanuel.

"The city of Chicago, we're going through difficult times. This is a time when we need a mayor who knows how to get things done," said Juan Rangel, chief executive officer of United Neighborhood Organization, a nonprofit grassroots group. "I know the other candidates well, but Rahm Emanuel is the better candidate."

Rangel caused a stir in the Latino community when, as an individual, he endorsed Emanuel instead of the Hispanics in the race. But Rangel was unapologetic about his endorsement, insisting that racial politics in the Windy City are a thing of the past.

"That's a Chicago from yesterday, where people vote on race and ethnicity," he said. "This community has matured and has become more sophisticated in the decisions it makes.

"If Chicago does well, then the Latino community does well," he added. 

To drive home his point, Rangel said he attended a fundraiser Monday night at The Mid hosted by Latinos for Rahm. He said it was attended by some 200 supporters, who contributed about $60,000.

Still, if the courts' decisions is upheld, Emanuel will be out – leaving scores of displaced voters looking for a candidate around whom they can rally.

There is still former U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley Braun, the consensus African American candidate. But that bloc of voters, 40 percent of whom supported Emanuel in the Chicago Tribune/WGN poll, would be up for grabs if Emanuel is bounced from the race.

Del Valle could be there to pick up the pieces. The progressive and self-proclaimed "poorest" candidate in the race has deep roots in poor black and other impoverished communities, and can cut into Moseley Braun's popularity. 

Chico, for his part, has drawn his support from key stakeholders, like firefighter and police unions, and could be the most attractive candidate for whites and business leaders if Emanuel isn't allowed to run. Chico has also received the high-profile endorsement of Gutiérrez, support that could siphon Boricua votes away his Puerto Rican opponent.

"These are two credible, viable Latino candidates for all of Chicago, and either one could run the city well," said Sylvia Puente, executive director for the Latino Policy Forum, a policy and advocacy organization. "With Rahm's problems, it clearly elevates both of them, and people will have to serious second look at them."

You can reach Wil Cruz at wil.cruz@foxnewslatino.com.

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