Updated: 1/4/11 4:57 p.m.
CHICAGO (CBS) – A Cook County judge has ruled that Rahm Emanuel should stay on the mayoral ballot this February.
Circuit Court Associate Judge Mark Ballard ruled Tuesday afternoon that Emanuel meets the qualifications to run for mayor, even though he lived in Washington, D.C., for a year while serving as chief of staff to President Barack Obama.
As CBS 2 Chief Correspondent Jay Levine reports, the argument focused on whether or not Rahm Emanuel had a place to sleep in Chicago in the year before the election.
The court said, “it didn’t matter.” And handed Emanuel his third straight victory over objectors who still aren’t giving up.
“We don’t look at these as losses, they’re just stepping stones to get to the appellate and Supreme Court,” said Burt Odelson, objectors’ attorney.
His argument in court before Judge Mark Ballard was that: “During the mandated year prior to election Emanuel abandoned his home,” renting it out rather than keeping a place to sleep here.
The response from Emanuel’s attorneys: “You don’t abandon your home just because you don’t sleep there.”
The judge’s ruling: “…an individual’s residency is not abandoned, even though that individual may not have a right to sleep within the jurisdiction.”
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“He’s lost before a hearing officer, he’s lost before three commissioners, all of whom are very, very familiar with the election law. He’s lost before a very experienced judge here and we’re not even prepared to presume that he’ll go to the appellate court,” said Kevin Forde, Emanuel’s attorney.
“We are filing in the appellate court tomorrow morning,” Odelson said. “We are asking the appellate court to expedite the case so that we’re heard within the next week to 10 days.”
Emanuel’s reaction, much what he said at a morning news conference just before the ruling came down.
“The Board of Elections has now issued a ruling saying I can run and that having worked with President Obama as chief of staff didn’t take me away from the city in any capacity to be a mayoral candidate,” said Emanuel. “And I do think now it’s up to the voters, to let them make a decision.”
But maybe not yet.
Odelson projects a timetable which could extend the court battle till the end of the month; though we’re not quite sure who’s paying his bills.
When asked if the public has a right to know who is behind it, Odelson said, “Well, the public can know, my objectors are paying for it.”
But when he was asked if anyone else was paying for it, Odelson said it was none of our business.
Isn’t it the public’s business?
“No, it’s my business,” he said.
Emanuel has an obligation to disclose what his residency defense has cost. Odelson is not required to tell us who is funding this legal battle, which some call a distraction and which could end up in what one election official called, “a train wreck.”
Last month, Emanuel, who is widely regarded as the frontrunner in the mayoral race, endured a day defending himself from dozens of people who are challenging his claims that he meets the residency requirements to run for mayor.
Illinois state law says a candidate for mayor is required to have lived in the municipality where he is running for at least one year prior to the election. But exceptions are made for national service.
Emanuel has also argued all along that he intended to return to Chicago.
“My car is licensed in the city of Chicago. I pay property taxes here in the city of Chicago. I vote in the city of Chicago,” Emanuel said at the hearing.
Odelson argued that “national service” would only apply to military service, not serving as chief of staff to President Barack Obama as Emanuel did.
He also argued that Emanuel’s insistence that he always planned to return to Chicago did not matter.
But Chicago Board of Elections hearing officer Joseph Morris disagreed, and advised that Emanuel had intended to return to the city and should stay on the ballot. The Board of Election Commissioners agreed soon afterward.
Odelson called the decision “shallow” at the time. He filed a lawsuit in Cook County Circuit Court to appeal that decision.
Odelson says he expects the case to go all the way to the state Supreme Court, and the process could take a month to settle.