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Rahm Emanuel Clears Hurdle in Mayoral Bid

White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel listens to President Obama speak to the media before departing the White House June 25, 2010, in Washington.
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CHICAGO - Former White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel cleared a major hurdle in his bid to be Chicago mayor Thursday when a hearing officer recommended his name appear on the February ballot although he has spent much of the last two years living in Washington working for President Obama.

The ruling, which still needs final approval from the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners, is a political win for Emanuel because it could help him silence critics who have persistently argued he isn't a Chicago resident.

The elections board, made up of two Democrats and one Republican, is scheduled to meet later Thursday and will likely make a decision on the recommendation. Officials have tried to expedite mayoral ballot challenges before the Feb. 22 vote, and the board's decision is almost sure to be challenged in the courts.

"The hearing officer is sort of like an Italian traffic signal - it's a mere suggestion. He is basically giving his opinion," said Paul Green, a political scientist at Roosevelt University in Chicago.

More than two dozen people challenged Emanuel's candidacy, contending he didn't meet a one-year residency requirement. Emanuel quit his job as Obama's top aide and moved back to Chicago in October after Mayor Richard M. Daley announced he wouldn't seek a seventh term.

Emanuel is part of a crowded field of more than a dozen candidates, including former U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley Braun, U.S. Rep. Danny Davis, former school board president Gery Chico, City Clerk Miguel del Valle and state Sen. James Meeks, the pastor of a South Side mega church.

Since returning to Chicago in October to run for mayor, Emanuel has enjoyed strong name recognition in the race and already has run several television ads. A recent Chicago Tribune/WGN poll showed Emanuel as the only candidate in double digits with more than 30 percent support, although 30 percent remained undecided.

Election board hearing officer Joseph Morris issued his 34-page ruling just before 2 a.m. Thursday.

The ruling by Morris, a Republican attorney in private practice in Chicago, came after a marathon three-day session last week in which Emanuel was grilled by a long parade of objectors to his candidacy, many of whom represented themselves and veered off into questions that had little to do with Emanuel's place of residence.

The serious, at times strange hearing explored the contents of the basement of Emanuel's home where he said he left many prized family possessions, including his wife's wedding dress - further proof he always intended to return to Chicago, he and his lawyers argued.

A former congressman from Chicago's North Side, Emanuel said he only moved his family to Washington because he couldn't turn down Obama's offer to be chief of staff. Emanuel's wife, Amy Rule, and the couple's three children still live in Washington and will remain there until the end of the school year.

The hearing focused heavily on Emanuel's home, with objectors contending he wasn't a resident partly because he rented out his house when his family joined him in Washington in the summer of 2009.

Emanuel said he leased his home for safety and security reasons. He tried to move back into his house when he returned to Chicago but the family renting it wanted $100,000 to break the lease and move out early. The tenant, businessman Rob Halpin, later filed paperwork to run for mayor against Emanuel, only to withdraw from the race a short time later.