by John Di Leo
An Unexpected Announcement
Standing before you on this sunny day, I am proud to announce my candidacy for president in the next election.
Of either France, or Mexico, or Italy. Or perhaps for prime minister, of Great Britain, Holland, Spain, Ireland, or Japan (though that last one’s a long shot, since I know I won’t look good on camera after a fourteen-hour plane ride… seven hours is really my limit).
I realize it’s hard to imagine being qualified for a high office in many different countries simultaneously, but the important thing is that I’m a citizen of the world; I really care about people. I have a toehold in each of these countries, because I care about their people, and if elected as their next president, prime minister, king, caesar, or dictator (in the end, really, what’s the difference?), I will do my best to run their country well. And they need me, after all, because they don’t have enough people to run who actually live in their respective countries.
I know what you’re wondering – why haven’t I narrowed this down to one particular country first? Well, I’ll tell you: I don’t know which one I’ll win in. I have to announce, so I can get some media, and commission some polls. Then when I see which country will elect me, I’ll move there.
Rahm Emanuel, Washington D.C.'s candidate for Chicago Mayor
Yes, I know, the analogy is flawed. Rahm Emanuel is indeed a citizen of the United States, and he previously served as a Congressman from Chicago, the city he seeks to rule as mayor for the next few decades.
But the fact remains that he didn’t live in Chicago for the two years prior to the election, disqualifying him from running under the only significant requirement for the office under the law.
There are plenty of rules about the filing process – how many petitions you file and when, who circulated them and whether the signers were legitimate, whether the pages are all numbered correctly and whether there’s enough of a surplus cushion to survive a challenge that finds a lot of unregistered, duplicate, or otherwise ineligible signatures (all common problems in Chicago campaigns) – but before you can file that stack of paper at all, you just have to have “resided in the municipality at least one year next preceding the election.” Is that really too much to ask?
Not residency, but renunciation?
The Board of Elections has based their decision on a fascinating concept. The question is not whether the candidate resided there during the prior year at all, but whether or not the candidate, once having held residency, whenever it occurred and however long ago, had ever renounced it.
An interesting idea, and quite reasonable in certain cases. But not this one, because the law doesn’t say that. It says “one year next preceding the election.” Not “one year”… not “any one year in his life”… not “a whole bunch of years, whether broken or unbroken.”
Any rational reading of this code – “one year next preceding the election” – can only mean one thing: that the candidate could have moved there just 366 days prior to the election and he’ll be just as valid a candidate as a lifelong resident. He just has to have lived there during that last year, that year immediately preceding the vote.
Under the law, Rahm Emanuel missed out by over half a year, because he resided in Washington DC until October. Open and shut. Until a bit of clever interpreting takes place.
The Random House Dictionary defines “to reside” as “to dwell permanently or for a considerable time,” or “to abide, lie, or be present habitually.” Don’t like Random House? Check another. Any other. They all agree. To reside somewhere is to live there.
And until October – until Mayor Daley gave a speech announcing that he would not be seeking another term, so there would be an open spot on the ballot for the first mayoral election in decades – Rahm Emanuel resided in Washington, D.C.
The Emanuel case – the idea that he ought to be able to run for mayor, despite having lived seven hundred miles to the east-southeast during half of his statutorily-obligated Chicago residency – is based on two pillars: the Illinois Election Code exception for federal service, and the fact that he retained ownership of his Chicago house.
Voting from distant barracks
The inapplicability of the federal service exception is clear. The law was written to clarify that Illinois residency is not compromised when military servicemen, the vast majority of whom live in federal housing, such as it is (barracks, foxholes, tents, etc.) are away from home on active duty, whether at war or in peacetime. Men and women serving in our armed forces go where they are stationed; they don’t usually get to choose their posting, so they remain citizens and legal residents of their last home until they have a more logical replacement address (for example, when officers may buy or rent a private house off-base).
The State of Illinois could certainly have covered bureaucrats in that law, had they chosen to do so. The legislature could have said they were covering “All federal employees of any kind, military, civilian, and political…” but they didn’t. The law merely says “No elector… shall be deemed to have lost his or her residence in any precinct or electoral district in this state by reason of his or her absence on business of the United States, or of this State.”
This is obviously not a reference to pulling up stakes and moving 700 miles away to take a federal job; it’s designed to protect the voting rights of our servicemen so their service in defense of their country doesn’t cause them to be barred from casting an absentee ballot.
Think about it. If this rule isn’t limited to the military, there’s no limit at all? What’s the difference between the Chief of Staff of the White House and the EPA Administrator for the northwest district in Oregon? Or the FDA district chief in Kansas City? Or the Customs port director in Savannah? Or an FBI agent in San Diego? Or a USDA inspector in Salt Lake City?
Practically half the country now works for government, in some way. Between the military and the civil service, the hundreds of petty bureaucracies scattered across the country employ huge numbers of people, who often move many states away from home for these often-cushy jobs. They settle there, raise families, put down roots. This is a good thing – it’s how the nation grows and homogenizes. But as most of these jobs involve willful moves, it is ridiculous to declare that these non-military moves don’t terminate residency for the purpose of a later political candidacy.
- If I move from Chicago to Nebraska to work for Beatrice Corp, I lose my right to run for Mayor of Chicago. But if I move to Nebraska to work for the FDA and regulate Beatrice, I can come back and run for Mayor of Chicago?
- If I move from Chicago to Green Bay to work for a paper mill, I lose my residency.
But if I move from Chicago to Green Bay to work for the Dept of the Interior to regulate that same paper mill’s foresting permit compliance, I retain that residency?
- If I move from Chicago to Detroit to work for Ford Motor Company, I lose my right to run for Mayor of Chicago. But if I move from Chicago to Detroit to work for General Motors, during the year in which the federal government owned and operated it, I retain my residency, just because I picked the right public-private partnership to work for, during the right window of time?
And what is the time limit for this undefined exception? Rahm Emanuel only lived in Washington DC for a bit over a year and a half (the key year and a half, yes, but still just a year and a half)… What if he he had stayed throughout Barack Obama’s full term?
And what if (heaven forbid) Obama were to gain reelection and serve eight years? Could Emanuel return then, without having set foot in Chicago for eight years, and claim the right to run for a city with which he might have lost all touch?
What if Obama’s vice president were to succeed him – another eight years of Joe Biden in the White House, with Emanuel at his side (I know, it’s cruel to posit this, but it’s critical to the argument). You could see sixteen years of straight Democrat reign in Washington, with Rahm Emanuel as Chief of Staff… and then returning in triumph as candidate for Mayor of Chicago at the end of it, without a break. Can this be what Illinois law proposes? Of course not… it’s designed to preserve voting rights, not to stretch the opportunity of candidacy without limit of time or space.
"Vote for the Absentee Landlord!"
The second pillar of the case is that Rahm Emanuel retained his Chicago house throughout the time he was in Washington. That might seem impressive on first blush – and if his family had remained in it, so he was only away most of the time on business, returning frequently as he had when he was a Congressman, then it would indeed serve as proof of his Chicago residency.
But that’s not what happened.
When he served in Washington as a Congressman, he had to maintain a Chicago home, so he did. When he became Chief of Staff, he had no such obligation, so he unloaded it and moved his family to Washington in a matter of months. He cleared out his house and prepared it for sale.
What’s that you say? But he didn’t sell it; he kept it! So what? Nobody was selling homes in 2009; it was the depths of the housing recession. Home values were plummeting. Like hundreds of thousands of other homeowners nationwide, Emanuel rented out his house rather than sell at a massive loss. We can’t blame him for the choice, considering the math, but we simply shouldn’t fail to see it as it is.
Rahm Emanuel moved to Washington for a job. A good job, a great job. But still… he moved for a job, like millions of people do all over the country. He changed where he lives, and that changes his residency. By definition.
When you own a stock, it’s an investment; that’s all it can be. Nobody would ever claim that owning McDonald’s stock qualifies a New Yorker to run for mayor of Oak Brook, or that owning United Airlines stock qualifies a Texan to run for mayor of Arlington Heights. A stock is an investment; it’s not a residence.
Land can be either, or both. When the Emanuel family lived on Hermitage, that house was both an investment (you always hope your house will appreciate in value) and a residence (his family lived there, whether he was at the office in Chicago or Washington at the time).
But the day that the Emanuels decided to rent out that house, they converted it into rental property, an investment like any other. They moved – to reside in Washington, D.C. – and collected rent checks from their tenants. There’s nothing wrong with this – rental property is an important part of our economy, often good for renter and landlord alike. But if the landlord doesn’t live in the building along with his tenants, it’s not his residence (cf. your handy copy of the income tax code).
No, there is no question. A rational reading of the situation must lead to the decision that Rahm Emanuel ceased his Chicago residency not when he took the White House job, not when he rented an apartment in Washington, but when he signed the lease renting out his Chicago house, converting it from his residence to his investment.
If we read it any other way – if we read it the way that Mr. Emanuel wants us to, then any federal bureaucrat has just been granted the military prerogative to run for office in the last district he lived in before accepting the job. And that’s rapidly approaching half the population of this nation.
Election law is written to safeguard the public against criminals (people who would cheat on their petitions), against gadflies (who run to cause trouble without significant support to justify their presence on the ballot), against carpetbaggers (people who haven’t lived there long enough to deserve the consideration of the district’s electorate.
We may dispute whether we think this law is clear enough, or fair enough. Some will say that Emanuel’s lifetime as a Chicagoan should give him a lifetime right to run for office there. Some will say that there should be more flexibility in the law, or that it should be corrected to clarify exactly who gets the right to move back and run without the recent residence that everybody else must have. There are plenty of ways to improve this law.
Regardless of what changes might be desirable or advisable, however, we have the law as it stands today: to appear on the ballot, one has to have resided in Chicago for the year prior to the election; and Rahm Emanuel will have only resided in Chicago for the five months prior.
Our nation’s greatest current ills are caused by a refusal to obey the law – not just by miscreants on our city streets, but by our elected and appointed government itself. We have Constitutions at both the federal and state levels, which have been gnawed and shredded for a century by the rodents of a self-perpetuating leviathan. The damage that the modern American left has done to this country could never have occurred but by the refusal of our elected officials to obey their oaths of office. They find powers between the lines that were never dreamed of by the Framers; they imagine rights to control that outweigh the people’s rights to be free.
As this country enjoys a belated return to the limited government so lovingly designed for us by our Founding Fathers, as newly elected officeholders storm into capitols all across this land, emboldened by the elections of 2010 and by the political awakening of a concerned nation, Chicago’s mayoral election may seem a small thing.
But should this be yet another opportunity for one of the architects of Obamacare, the 2009 Stimulus, the nationalization of the automakers and insurance companies, to be elevated to the mayoralty of one of America’s greatest cities, rewarding him for his lifetime of unconstitutional actions, enabled by the overly broad reading of yet another statute that was designed to ensure that the cities’ candidates were current residents with their fingers on the pulse of the city?
Or might it instead be an opportunity for even Illinois, a state that largely missed out on the revolutions of 2010, to proudly announce that we too have learned the lesson, and that we will obey both the letter and spirit of the law, a little more faithfully, from here on? Isn’t it worth a try, at least?
For now, it’s in the hands of the courts. Heaven help us.
Copyright 2010 John F. Di Leo
John F. Di Leo is a Chicago-based Customs broker and international trade compliance trainer. John is not an attorney, so this article does not constitute legal advice; John is just interpreting the intent of the lawmakers here from a basis of political philosophy and reason. Though he was born in Chicago, and lived there until he was one year of age, this honest suburbanite has never had the audacity to twist the law into letting him for mayor of Chicago. Three million people legitimately live there; surely they aren’t so desperate for candidates they need to reach out to Washington DC to find a mayor! Permission is hereby granted to forward freely, provided it is uncut and the IR URL and byline are included. Follow me on Facebook and LinkedIn!