On Monday afternoon, political afficionados of all stripes were flabbergasted by the ruling of a three-judge panel of the Illinois Appellate Court that Rahm Emanuel was out of the race for mayor of Chicago because he did not meet the city’s residency requirements. In overturning previous rulings by the Chicago Board of Elections and the Circuit Court that Emanuel was a legal resident of Chicago while serving as congressman and President Obama’s chief of staff, the 2-to-1 decision of the Appellate Court panel has thrown the race to succeed retiring Mayor Richard M. Daley into turmoil.
If Emanuel cannot recover his position on the ballot February 22nd, the non-partisan race is likely to boil down to two fellow liberal Democrats who lack his clout and connections—former Sen. Carol Mosely-Braun and lawyer Gary Chico, formerly Daley’s chief of staff and chairman of the City Board of Elections.
To get back in the race, Emanuel needs a fresh ruling in his favor from the nine-justice Illinois Supreme Court—and soon. It is here that things get interesting.
The Supreme Court has five Democratic justices and four Republican justices. But court-watchers and Emanuel watchers are not making angy wagers on the outcome. This is largely because of the Democratic jurist who is increasingly viewed as the “swing” or “unpredictable” vote in the upcoming Emanuel case, Justice Anne Burke.
“Ann is the wife of Eddie Burke, the Democratic chairman of the [Chicago] City Council’s Finance Committee,” noted veteran Chicago political pundit Tom Roeser, whose WLS-Radio Talk Show and blog are considered must-reading for those who want to understand the byzantine world of Illinois politics, “Now Eddie hates Rahm Emanuel and I wouldn’t doubt for a minute that he and the other Council members I call the ‘grey wolves’ love the ruling this week. They don’t want Rahm as mayor. They want someone who will let them call the shots from the Council and do their bidding.”
Roeser went on to note that, under the letter of the law in Chicago, the mayor is technically a “weak” mayor and there is considerable power in the Council. But strong political figures such as Daley and his father, legendary eight-term Mayor Richard J. Daley, exerted such force that they and not the Council had the last word.
“Eddie Burke does not want another Daley and that means he doesn’t want Rahm,” said Roeser, “Look, whatever you think of Rahm—and I’ve been having him on my show for years—he’s one tough guy who, I’m quite sure, will try to pass laws to make it impossible for teachers to strike and reform our entire school system. I say he takes his cue from [New York Gov. Andrew] Cuomo, who is standing up to the service unions by promising no new taxes and standing firm. Rahm wants to be ‘America’s mayor’ like Rudy Giuliani and then become the first Jewish President.”
But Emanuel must first win the next round in court and how that will turn out is unclear. Many feel that Justice Burke will vote as her husband would no doubt like and say ‘No to Rahm.’ But Roeser is not so sure. He recalled when Justice Burke was a private attorney and on the National Review Board of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. In his words, “She was heading the Board and getting pressure from [Conference Chairman and Atlanta Archbishop] Wilton Gregory, who is a very liberal cleric. Rather than just kowtow to him, Anne and [attorney] Robert Bennett flew to Rome at their own expense and sat down with the-then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger [closest associate in the Vatican of Pope John Paul II and now Pope Benedict XVI) and told him what was going on. She also worked for [former Republican Gov.] Jim Edgar.”
Roeser believes that the Emanuel case could well come down to Anne Burke and that there is no way to “pidgeonhole” her or her ultimate vote.
For now, all one can say is the standard line from the television serials: “Stay tuned.”