CHICAGO — The Illinois Supreme Court ruled Thursday that Rahm Emanuel can stay on the ballot for mayor of Chicago, saying in a unanimous decision that he meets the state's residency requirements despite spending most of the last year as White House chief of staff.
The decision came without a moment to spare; early voting for the Feb. 22 city election begins Monday.
"The voters deserved the right to make the choice of who should be mayor. And what the Supreme Court said basically, in short, that the voters should make the decisions of who will be mayor," a victorious Emanuel said after slapping backs and shaking hands with commuters at the Clark and Lake elevated train stop near his downtown headquarters.
"The nice part was to be able to tell the news to voters, because a lot of people had not heard it," Emanuel said.
While at the station, Emanuel took a congratulatory call from President Barack Obama. After that, Emanuel left for a debate scheduled for Thursday night with the three other leading contenders in the mayoral contest.
A cheer went up at Emanuel's headquarters when the news came out.
The Illinois Supreme Court's decision reverses a 2-1 Illinois Appeals Court decision Monday that ruled Emanuel ineligible on the grounds he did not meet the requirement of being a Chicago resident for a year before the election. Emanuel returned to Chicago last fall to run for mayor after serving as White House chief of staff to Obama.
The Chicago election board and a Cook County Circuit judge had earlier ruled Emanuel met the residency requirements. The Supreme Court unanimously said the appellate court was in error in overruling them.
"So there will be no mistake, let us be entirely clear," the Supreme Court wrote in its ruling Thursday. "This court's decision is based on the following and only on the following: (1) what it means to be a resident for election purposes was clearly established long ago, and Illinois law has been consistent on the matter since at least the 19th century; (2) the novel standard adopted by the appellate court majority is without any foundation in Illinois law; (3) the Board's factual findings were not against the manifest weight of the evidence; and (4) the Board's decision was not clearly erroneous."
"I can say the candidate and our camp are very pleased that this issue is finally behind us," said Emanuel attorney Kevin Forde. He pointed to the Supreme Court's ruling that the law was long settled. "They make it clear the law has been settled for 150 years."
Burt Odelson, the lead attorney challenging Emanuel's candidacy, declined to comment.
Opponent Gery Chico issued a statement saying, "Emanuel's residency drama has made this election into a circus instead of a serious debate about the future of Chicago.With less than 30 days to go until election day, there is no time to waste. Game on."
Emanuel has enjoyed a wide lead over three other major candidates in two Chicago Tribune polls.
On Tuesday, the state Supreme Court put the appellate ruling on hold, restoring Emanuel temporarily to the ballot, and agreed to take the case. The justices did not want to hear arguments or receive new legal briefings from the attorneys on either side of the ballot dispute. Instead, they used the material the attorneys already filed at the appellate level.
About 300,000 ballots were printed Tuesday without Emanuel's name on them until the Supreme Court weighed in with its order to keep Emanuel on the ballot at least temporarily. Those ballots were set aside and new ballots printed by the Chicago Board of Election Commissioner had Emanuel's name on them.
Still, elections officials suggested that voters might want to wait a bit before casting an early ballot, given the uncertainty in the mayor's race. Early voting runs Monday to Feb. 17.