Rahm Emanuel Not Eligible To Run For Mayor Of Chicago ?

Some legal experts in Chicago are saying that Rahm Emanuel may not be eligible to run for Mayor because he doesn’t qualify as a legal resident:

Two of Chicago’s top election lawyers say the state’s municipal code is crystal clear that a candidate for mayor must reside in the town for a year before the election.

That doesn’t mean they must simply own a home in the city that they rent out to someone else. They must have a place they can walk into, keep a toothbrush, hang up their jacket and occasionally sleep, the lawyers say.

Another three election lawyers say Emanuel could be thrown off the ballot on a residency challenge. None says Emanuel will have it easy.


“The guy does not meet the statutory requirements to run for mayor,” said attorney Burt Odelson. “He hasn’t been back there in 18 months. Residency cases are usually very hard to prove because the candidate gets an apartment or says he’s living in his mother’s basement. Here the facts are easy to prove. He doesn’t dispute he’s been in Washington for the past 18 months. This is not a hard case.”

Emanuel could argue that he has maintained ownership of the home, voted absentee earlier this year, pays property taxes on his house, lists the address on his driver’s license, registers his car there, and always intended to return. Cook County judges give great deference to a candidate’s intent.

Even if Emanuel ultimately wins the challenge, it could prove to be a distraction in a campaign that most people agree will be far from a cake walk for him, and he probably didn’t help his case by filming his “Glad to be home” video in an office in Washington, D.C.

FILED UNDER: US Politics, ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Bethany says:

    But according to this logic, wouldn’t a member of the US military also be ineligible? Sure they don’t live there currently, but they are serving the country while maintaining temporary residence elsewhere.

  2. Brummagem Joe says:

    This is baloney.

  3. I’d have to see what the law in question says to be sure.

    I’m not sure this will keep Emanuel off the ballot, but it’s also not the kind of thing you want to be reading on your first day of campaigning.

  4. This is baloney.

    It’s also Chicago.

    If there’s a legal argument to be made here, you can be sure one of his opponents will make it.

  5. PD Shaw says:

    The legal argument makes the political argument. Rahm has not been in Chicago helping Chicagoans for the past several years like many of his opponents.

  6. Dave Schuler says:

    I posted on this subject a couple of weeks ago. IMO there will be challenges and he’ll win them.

    IIRC the law makes specific exceptions for serving in the military and custom, at least, dictates that a position on the White House staff be given some leeway.

    Our current governor, Pat Quinn’s, comment was that your residence was whereever you keep your underwear and by that standard Emanuel isn’t a Chicago resident. I doubt that has legal force, though.

    I think the real problem was that he leased the house out.

  7. PD Shaw says:

    The thing to look for is whether the residency standard for voting and running for office are the same. I suspect they are not, but the linked article, referencing studens and military, is conflating the two.

  8. Dave,

    One would think that this issue was thought over before Emanuel made the decision to run and that they think they’ve got a good chance of withstanding a challenge.

    Nonetheless, as I said it is a distraction.

    By the way, there are other people running for this job right ? 🙂

  9. Tano says:

    “By the way, there are other people running for this job right ? 🙂 ‘

    Thats actually a good point. The legal issues revolving around this might be a distraction, but it is also quite possible that they will be the main focus of media coverage – it will all be – “will Rahm stay on the ballot?” and no one will being paying much attention to the other guys…

  10. Dave Schuler says:

    By the way, there are other people running for this job right ?

    Some have been waiting in line literally for decades for a chance to run. I doubt that the field will just be abandoned to Emanuel. His fund-raising ability is important but it’s not the only thing. It’s not clear to me where he’ll draw his voters from.

    Although I do expect the president to speak in glowing terms of his former chief of staff, I don’t expect him to endorse his election outright, at least not if there’s a serious African American candidate running.

  11. PD Shaw says:

    It’s being reported that just days before Daley announced that he was not running, the lease was signed. That strikes against the notion that Emanuel’s been thinking this thing through. It was widely rumored or believed that Daley would make such announcements this year.

    FWIW: This appears to be the law: “A person is not eligible for an elective municipal office unless that person is a qualified elector of the municipality and has resided in the municipality at least one year next preceding the election ….” (65 ILCS 5/3.1-5-5(a))

  12. Tano says:

    “It’s not clear to me where he’ll draw his voters from.”

    Perhaps he could start with the voters in his old Congressional district which makes up a large chunk of the North Side and sent him routinely to DC with 3/4 of the vote?

    “I don’t expect him to endorse his election outright, at least not if there’s a serious African American candidate running.”

    What makes you think that that would be a determining factor?

  13. sam says:

    That’s the plain wording alright, but the question is, I think, was Rahm a qualified voter in Chicago during his stint in DC? At issue would be his residency, I’d think.

    (10 ILCS 5/3‑2) (from Ch. 46, par. 3‑2) says

    Sec. 3‑2. (a) A permanent abode is necessary to constitute a residence within the meaning of Section 3‑1. No elector or spouse shall be deemed to have lost his or her residence in any precinct or election district in this State by reason of his or her absence on business of the United States, or of this State…

    Surely being chief of staff to the president qualifies as being engaged on “business of the United States”, right? The fact that he leased his house shouldn’t negate this, or so I’d argue.

  14. sam says:

    uh, the Surely… aint’ part of the statute….

  15. PD Shaw says:

    sam, that the definition of residency for purpose of voting. Rahm has two hurdles: (1) he must be able to vote in the city, and (2) he must have resided in the city for a year prior to the election. I don’t think he has a problem with (1) and I don’t think the “residency” rules for (1) apply to issue (2). For one thing, the rules for being a resident for one year while in the military are much narrower:


    (There is a typo in my previous citation)

  16. PD Shaw says:

    While my comments are negative, I really don’t care for residency requirements to run for office. I think people can figure out for themselves whether the candidate knows enough about the community to be their elected official. And if I were to bet, I would bet Emanuel survives any challenges.

    But the decisionmaker is the Chicago Board of Elections, and their decisions are generally not reviewable, so the question is who is the Chicago Board of Elections?

  17. sam says:

    But PD, if we were to take your argument to the logical conclusion, no a member of the House could run for office in Chicago if he lost reelection and the local election he was trying occurred within the one-year period. That seems counterintuitive: You’re qualified to represent us in Congress, or the White House, but not as mayor. To repeat myself, I think a plain reading of the stat I cited says he did not lose residency while in DC, either as a member of the House or as chief of staff.

  18. PD Shaw says:

    I find it amusing that if you look up the word “carpetbagger” on Wikipedia, you’ll find this statement:

    “In 2010 Rahm Emanuel’s desire to return to Chicago to run for mayor makes him a prime candidate for the term. “

  19. PD Shaw says:

    sam, the contrary argument is that everybody else retains their residency to return to, even if it’s for a few days. Emmanuel legally precluded himself from returning to his residency. He didn’t even write in a provision where he could end the lease with 30 days notice. It seems like a pretty unique situation to him.

  20. Dave Schuler says:

    sam, note the word “elector” in the statute you’ve quoted. Rahm Emanuel is not an elector, consequently the exception provided by the statute does not apply to him.

  21. sam says:

    Ah, I took the word ‘elector’ to mean voter. Could someone be a qualified elector and not be a qualified voter? That seems odd, too.

  22. sam says:

    (10 ILCS 5/3‑1.2) (from Ch. 46, par. 3‑1.2)
    Sec. 3‑1.2. Eligibility to sign petition. For the purpose of determining eligibility to sign a nominating petition or a petition proposing a public question the terms “voter”, “registered voter”, “qualified voter”, “legal voter”, “elector”, “qualified elector”, “primary elector” and “qualified primary elector” as used in this Code or in another Statute shall mean a person who is registered to vote at the address shown opposite his signature on the petition or was registered to vote at such address when he signed the petition.

    Seems to say that the terms ‘elector’ and ‘voter’ mean the same thing, no?

  23. PD Shaw says:

    According to the Illinois Municipal Code, an “elector” “means persons qualified to vote for elective officers at municipal elections.”


    I still think though the structure of the Code means that Rahm can be qualified to vote (because Chicago is his last residence), but not qualified to run for office (because he has not retained Chicago as his residence over the last year).

  24. Brummagem Joe says:

    “If there’s a legal argument to be made here, you can be sure one of his opponents will make it.”

    True of course but it doesn’t necessarily mean they are going to prevail. The possibility that Rahm is going to be ineligible strikes me as a) far fetched b) something his legal team ready for.

  25. Dave Schuler says:

    Perhaps he could start with the voters in his old Congressional district which makes up a large chunk of the North Side and sent him routinely to DC with 3/4 of the vote?

    You conclude this from your extensive knowledge of the district? I’ve lived in the district for more than 25 years and in the Democratic primary voted for his opponenty, a very decent woman who’s been a community activist and lived in the distrcit all of her life. I voted against Emanuel because I didn’t think he had any particular interest in the district, just viewed the seat as a stepping stone to another office, a view fully borne out by how he served. Jan Schakowsky, who had represented my area until the 2000 redistricting, was head and shoulders above Emanuel as a Congressional representative.

    It’s a safe seat. He got three quarters of the vote because he was running as a Democrat. There will be quite a few Democrats vying for the office.

  26. Tano says:

    Oh, I see Dave. You don’t like him. Therefore he won’t be able to win.

    “He got three quarters of the vote because he was running as a Democrat.”

    But he won the primary too, non? How did that wonderful woman that you voted for do?

    “Jan Schakowsky, …was head and shoulders above Emanuel as a Congressional representative.”

    And that means what with regard to his chances of winning the mayoralty?

  27. PD Shaw says:

    From what I’ve read, Emmanual won his district because (a) he was able to raise money from outside Chicago, (b) his Washington experience was seen as a plus for a position in Washington, and (c) Daley told the area committeemen to support Rahm.

  28. PD Shaw says:

    One of those things is still true.

  29. It doesn’t matter if he’s elligible or not. Just as when Lautenberg joined the NJ senate rate after the legal deadline or Bush was added to the florida presidential ballot after the legal deadline, the law will be treated as “being more of a guideline” for the dominant party in a particular area.