CHICAGO (AP) — With Rahm Emanuel off the witness stand and back on the campaign trail in his bid for Chicago mayor, a hearing about whether his name should be on the ballot turns to other witnesses, including a woman who rented Emanuel’s house after he went to Washington, D.C., to work for the president.
Emanuel’s residency is being challenged by a number of attorneys and Chicago residents who contend that when he left in 2009 to become President Barack Obama’s White House chief of staff, he became ineligible to run for mayor. They say he does not meet the requirement that candidates live in the city a full year before the election because he moved back less than five months before the February election.
Lori Halpin, who is living in Emanuel’s house, is scheduled to testify Wednesday. Halpin and her husband made headlines when they refused Emanuel’s request to break the lease on the house so Emanuel could move back in.
Emanuel returns to his campaign after enduring nearly 12 hours of questioning Tuesday from everyone from attorneys to a woman named Queen Sister. A Chicago Tribune/WGN poll released Tuesday night showed Emanuel with an early lead, though 30 percent of those polled were undecided.
“I look forward to returning immediately to talking directly to the voters of the city of Chicago because they have always focused on the top priorities, which is what happens in their own residency — i.e. their jobs, their schools and the safety of their neighborhood,” he told reporters afterward.
During a hearing that was sometimes funny, contentious, touching and downright strange, Emanuel was peppered with questions about the house, his income tax returns, driver’s license, voting record and car registration. Emanuel said he took a host of steps that illustrate that he had every intention of returning to Chicago.
Speaking in a quiet voice, his hands clasped before him and with a photograph of his family in front of him, Emanuel looked and sounded nothing like a politician widely known for his tough, take-no-prisoners and often profane style.
He appeared relaxed and smiled easily, once joking as his income tax returns were shown on the screen in the room that, “It does call for tax reform, I’ll tell you that.”
And he laughed when one of his questioners, a community activist dressed in a T-shirt, signaled that he was out of questions when he joked, “Have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?”
“I enjoyed that,” Emanuel said.
Emanuel also addressed the issue of his leaving Chicago with what his attorneys and supporters believe is powerful evidence that he fully intended to return to the Windy City.
He talked about how he registered to vote from Chicago and voted absentee, did not sell his house and continued to pay Illinois taxes. He said he and his wife rented their house on the recommendation of real estate professionals “for the safety and security of the house.”
He listed the family’s “most valuable possessions” that he left in the house, including his wife’s wedding dress, clothes his children wore home from the hospital just after they were born, photographs, his children’s report cards and their drawings.
And he repeatedly came back to a theme he has been sounding throughout his campaign to succeed the retiring Mayor Richard Daley: He only left his job as a Chicago congressman and moved his family to Washington to work for the president.
“The only reason I no longer put my head down in that house is the president of the United States at a time of crisis asked me to serve as chief of staff,” he said.
The hearing got progressively more strange as the day went on and the attorneys gave way to Chicago residents who filed objections to his candidacy. One of those, a man named Jeffrey Joseph Black, had fellow objectors shaking their heads when he asked Emanuel if he caused the 1993 siege at Waco, Texas, or knew about his supposed FBI file called “Project Mega” or “Mega File.”
Another, a woman named Zakiyyah Muhammad, wanted to know what role Emanuel played in the U.S. Agriculture Department’s request that Shirley Sherrod leave her job as Georgia’s director of rural development in after comments she made in March were misconstrued as racist.
The hearing officer ruled Emanuel did not have to answer those questions, saying they were inappropriate.
After the testimony ends, the hearing officer will make a recommendation on whether Emanuel’s name should be on the ballot to the full Chicago Board of Election Commissioners. Officials have said they need to settle on the list of candidates well before the Feb. 22 election.