Emanuel candidacy challenge begins

Field of 20 mayoral hopefuls is now down to 15

December 6, 2010

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(WBEZ/Sam Hudzik)
Joseph A. Morris (left) is the hearing officer assigned to the Emanuel objections.

The case to decide whether Rahm Emanuel can run for mayor began Monday at the offices of the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners. More than two dozen challenges were filed against the former congressman and White House chief of staff, alleging he does not meet a residency requirement.

The election board decided to merge - for now, at least - all of the objections against Emanuel into a single case. That led to a very crowded hearing in a basement conference room, and annoyed election lawyer Burt Odelson, who represents a couple of the challengers.

"Well, I know the law is on my side," Odelson said to reporters. "What troubles me is the cadre of folks we have here who are going to enter things into the record which have really nothing to do with this case."

Odelson told the hearing officer, Joseph A. Morris, that he worried that allowing all the objectors to interview witnesses would "turn in to a little bit of a circus."

Morris replied that objectors would each "get a fair crack at [asking a witness] any questions that somebody else hasn't asked." But he did express a sense of urgency.

"By the middle of January, not only do we need to have completed the proceedings here, and I need to have prepared a recommended decision that goes to the full board of elections, the board of elections needs to decide the matter, and I'm sure just about everybody in the room wants to make sure that if necessary there's time for appeals to the courts," Morris said.

The objectors to Emanuel's petitions, including Odelson, allege that Emanuel is ineligible to run for mayor, in part, because he rented out his Chicago house while working for President Obama in Washington. Odelson represents another mayoral candidate, state Sen. James Meeks, D-Chicago, but has insisted that Meeks is not part of the challenge to Emanuel's candidacy.

Morris plans to decide on the witness list in a hearing this Friday, with testimony starting Monday. He's also expected to rule soon on a motion to have the election board chairman, Langdon Neal, barred from considering the case. That motion was filed by Odelson, who said Neal should not be involved because he has made public comments on the issue.

Earlier Monday morning, the election board decided the paperwork filed by four other candidates for mayor blatantly failed to meet the legal requirements. The board removed Ryan Graves, Tommy Hanson, Jay Stone and M. Tricia Lee from the ballot.

"There has to be at least 12,500 signatures of legal voters on a candidate's nomination papers," said James Scanlon, the board's top lawyer. "An examination of Ms. Lee's nomination papers reveals that there are only 700 signatures."

The removed candidates have the option of asking the board to reconsider, and Stone has promised a lawsuit.

Also Monday, the man who rents out Emanuel's North Side house, Rob Halpin, ended his short-lived candidacy for the office. That followed reports by news organizations that some of Halpin's petition sheets appear to have been falsely notarized.

His withdrawal brings the number of candidates for mayor down to 15. More could be removed in the coming weeks as the board considers objections.