Newspapers Back Emanuel, Black Voters Don’t

Immediately upon Monday's appellate court ruling that briefly -- and possibly permanently -- knocked Rahm Emanuel off the ballot in Chicago's mayoral race, the editorial boards at Chicago's two largest newspapers opened up their guns in defense of Emanuel.

The Tribune wrote:" Two appellate Judges ignored more than 100 years of legal precedent, invented a new definition of ‘residency' and ordered Rahm Emanuel off the February 22 mayoral ballot."

The Sun-Times wrote: "If this ruling stands, two appellate court justices, employing a rather narrow view of state law, will have decided that you, the voters, cannot choose Emanuel to be your next mayor - tough luck, folks."

All the way down in Springfield, the state capitol, where citizens don't vote but businessmen view themselves as inextricably tied to Chicago, the State Journal-Register wrote: "A shocking and, in our interpretation, curious ruling by an Illinois appeals court Monday that removes Rahm Emanuel from the ballot could significantly weaken the field in Chicago mayoral election. That's not good for Chicago or the state as a whole."

The Sun-Times went a step further and took aim at Springfield. "We can only hope that the Illinois Supreme Court will order an injunction keeping Emanuel's name on the ballot...It would be particularly shameful - and fuel a few conspiracy theories - if the high court declined to review this case," wrote the editorial board.

In defense of the Tribune, its high-profile columnist, John Kass, made note of the bullying.

"This so infuriated the editorial boards of the major Chicago newspapers that the justices of the Illinois Supreme Court were put on notice: Make Room for Rahm on the ballot, or face the media wrath," he wrote.

The Supreme Court complied. Justices agreed to an expedited review of the case and ordered the Board of Election to print ballots with Rahm's name on them. You can interpret for yourself if that is an indication of which way Justices intend to rule.

If you don't follow Chicago politics closely, the argument is all about residency. The law is pretty clear that a candidate must have lived in Chicago for one year prior to election-day. We all know Emanuel was in Washington and although he owns a house in Chicago, he leased it to another family from September 1 2009, through June 2011. Burt Odelson, who is leading the charge to exclude Rahm from the ballot says, "He didn't have a place to sleep" when he returned. Much of the legal argument has involved dissecting the words "resided in." But it is pretty clear to us common sense types that Rahm didn't reside in his house.

However, there is an exception. Language was put on the books around the time of WWII intended to prevent soldiers from being disenfranchised when they left to fight. It states that a voter will retain his or her resident status if he or she left on "the business of the United States."

Now you get down to interpretation. The State Journal-Register makes it clear they believe Emanuel was working for Uncle Sam and therefore a resident. Odelson has stated time and again that Emanuel was working in a political position for a man who happens to be President, not in the service of the United States. I've pressed him on that issue before and he responds with a rhetorical question: "would a cook in the White House be given the same treatment?"

Then Justices need to interpret another question: if the code says someone is eligible as a voter, is he or she eligible as a candidate? The appellate court said no by a 2-1 split decision. The Sups in Springfield will get another go at that question.

The Tribune put the spotlight on one of the Supreme Court Justices: Anne M Burke. She is married to Chicago's 14th ward Alderman Ed Burke, who is publicly backing Emanuel opponent Gery Chico. Despite the appearance of a possible conflict, the board did not urge her to abstain from this case because a 3-3 tie on the Supreme Court, would uphold the Appellate Court's ruling.

Today, I asked Emanuel how he felt about Justice Burke hearing his case. He dodged it artfully. "The good news is the Supreme Court has decided to do it (review the case) on an expedited basis. So, the city can have an honest campaign about its future and not about my residency." He then zipped out the door preventing a follow up question.

It's also very interesting to see that Chicago's powerful minority voting block is not squarely in Rahm's corner on this one. Carol Moseley Bran won't defend him, but that's a no-brainer. Emanuel was clobbering her in the polls. If he's off the ballot she moves from number 3 to number 2 behind Chico. But notable Chicago blacks have come out against Emanuel.

Mary Mitchell (who writes for the Sun-Times) penned "The city has its rules, and the perception is that the exceptions to those rules are for the connected and powerful. Perhaps - the ruling against Emanuel signals that that is about to change."

Finally, a name with which you are all familiar, Jesse Jackson, says the ruling upholds a core city value. Despite the fact that Emanuel has out fundraised and out dazzled the rest of the field and opinion polls showing that Emanuel can flirt with the possibility of winning a majority of Chicago voters without a runoff, Jackson said Rahm "has to qualify to be eligible."