Democracy Soup

Making sense out of the world of politics

Rahm Emanuel has to play by the rules, even if the TV news people don’t understand

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UPDATE 1/27/11: Boy, that was quick. Rahm Emanuel got the Illinois Supreme Court to issue a quick stay. And before you could warm up from the Chicago cold, the high court ruled unanimously that Emanuel should be on the ballot.

Do you watch TV news and sometimes feel they are covering a different reality than the one you live in?

In national news, this happens all the time. But on a local level, there — theoretically — is supposed to be a closer level to reality.

In Chicago, watching the TV coverage of the mayoral race — the first real race in over 20 years — promised to be exciting. You actually have several major candidates, a chance to show off your coverage. Unfortunately, the TV coverage in Chicago has been tripping over themselves to crown King Emanuel, as in former Obama White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel.

Though there are (and were) several major candidates in the race, Emanuel got the lion’s share, actually several lions’ share, worth of coverage. The modern mentality is that Emanuel has the most money (he does, by a long shot) and the most well-known name (true again) so he deserves the majority of the coverage.

That in itself is lazy, but not horrible; the problem is that the coverage itself has been fawning. Really fawning. Chicago has had a mayor who has bulldozed over anything he didn’t want, and Emanuel’s crowning looked like more of the same. If you think that last sentence is hyperbole, Richard M. Daley literally had bulldozers destroy Meigs Field, the lakefront airport.

Which made all the sweeter — the ruling that Rahm Emanuel doesn’t meet the requirements to run for mayor of Chicago.

The rule has been an issue all along, but has been pished and poshed by the TV coverage, treating it like a lone fly at a picnic. Never mind that the rules clearly state you have to live in the municipality for a year before running.

There were two major issues in Emanuel’s “residency” eligibility: living and voting. Emanuel rented out his house, and when he decided to run for mayor of Chicago, tried to break the agreement with the renters. The renters stood up and said no, and in fact, the renter briefly ran for the office.

This element has received a lot of coverage; the voting — well, not so much. Emanuel was removed from the voting rolls twice since he had been in DC, and twice he magically reappeared on the voting rolls once again. Ask yourself if the average Chicago resident would have been so lucky.

Rahm Emanuel has trotted out visions of boxes in his house, serving the United States by being President Obama’s Chief of Staff, and his intent to return to Chicago. And he is very powerful and has a lot of money.

But none of those things apply to the law. Serving your country in the military is an exception, but the only reason that is true is, as a solider, you don’t have a place of residence by default. And if Emanuel wants to equate Chief of Staff to risking your life in war, then he will lose that argument.

Critics have tried to compare this to the requirements for president or Congress. And some astute people have pointed to the story of Alan Keyes.

You probably don’t remember that Alan Keyes is the answer to the trivia question, “Who lost to Barack Obama for the Senate in 2004?” Keyes, who owned a home in Maryland, tried to claim that renting an apartment in Calumet City, IL qualified him as an Illinois resident. Only because Keyes wasn’t considered a viable candidate did the issue get swept underneath the rug. (For the record, Keyes would have trouble claiming IL residence, especially with paying taxes in Maryland.

But at least, Keyes had an apartment. Emanuel owned a house but had no way of living there. And Emanuel stayed in hotels when he came back to visit Chicago.

And some have tried to compare the scenario to Hillary Clinton. But again, Clinton had a home in New York. The fact that the state allows a short period of time in living in the Empire State to run for office is New York’s issue. And if the state hasn’t changed the law after Robert F. Kennedy and Hillary Clinton took advantage of the rules, well, then New Yorkers probably want to keep things the way they are.

But none of this has to do with Rahm Emanuel and his residency eligibility. He has to live in the city that he wants to run; a year is not too much to ask for in running the city of Chicago. And again, if those in Illinois (full disclosure: I am one of them) want to change the law, they can. But for Emanuel in 2011, it’s too late.

Emanuel can run in 2015, provided he has lived in Chicago for at least a year.

Richard M. Daley lost a 3-way mayoral primary in 1983 to Harold Washington, the only elected African-American Chicago mayor. Daley had to wait longer after Washington died in 1987, as the City Council hoisted Eugene Sawyer to replace Washington. But Daley finally got his chance to run in 1989, and has been the mayor ever since.

The TV people generally react as if it’s audacious that Emanuel has to play by the rules, that the electorate wants our politicians to play by the rules. But they aren’t living in the same world as we are. The rules are normally stacked in favor of people such as Emanuel and Daley. Chicago has a tradition of using arcane rules to knock candidates off the ballot, using hurting the little known candidate who likely won’t win. The powers that be love to knock them off, because, it shows off their power.

So seeing a scenario where the powerful have to live by the same rules as the rest of us, well, this is what the Founding Fathers envisioned. The power base in Chicago, well, they have lost those memos. And the TV people, who ran scared of confronting Mayor Daley, looked forward to kowtowing to Mayor Emanuel.

Unless the Illinois Supreme Court steps in, Emanuel won’t get that chance in 2011. And we can thank the laws and their broad application. All the arrogance in the world won’t change that, but Rahm Emanuel and the TV news people certainly will give it a try.

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