Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Right and Rahm in Chicago

The appellate court in Illinois has handed down a 2 to 1 decision in the case of Rahm Emmanuel’s campaign for Mayor of Chicago, stating that he does not meet the residency requirements to run and his name should be removed from the ballot.

First off, let me say that I don’t give a damn one way or another whether Rahm Emmanuel is elected Mayor of Chicago. I don’t much care who is occupies that office.

Regardless, the court has committed an injustice. The decision was based on plaintiff arguments that Mr. Emmanuel lacked residency because he moved his family to D.C. to serve in the Obama administration and that he had rented out his main residence in the city for that period.

Let’s deconstruct that idea for a moment. It consists of two main arguments:

1) Mr. Emmanuel moved his family to D.C. to serve in the administration.

2) Mr. Emmanuel rented his residence while he was living and working in the administration in D.C.

On the face of it it would seem that Mr. Emmanuel has moved away from Chicago and does not qualify as a resident but let’s look deeper. What is it that Mr. Emmanuel was doing in D.C.? He was working for the President of the United States in a job of national importance and of temporary but unknown duration.

What are some similar positions that might also require one to live away from your main home residence for some unknown period while on service to the country? How about military service? Military personnel are called upon to serve their country in all manner of locations and often bring their families with them even for relatively short periods of time, say 18 months or so. Even so, military families are permitted to state their chosen residence regardless of where they live in fact. This is clearly just and correct. A person serving the country shouldn’t be denied any rights or privileges of residency simply because their duty has taken them away from their stated home.

Would we think it just for a member of the armed services to be denied the right to run in a local election solely because they and their family had lived outside of the jurisdiction while serving? Do I hear a single voice that says yea? Guess not.

Why then would we think it just for a civil servant on similarly temporary assignment outside of said jurisdiction to be similarly deprived of the right to run for office? Clearly we wouldn’t.

And as to the renting of their primary residence while on assignment away from home? That seems to me a completely logical and sound financial decision. In fact, who, other than someone with great wealth, could afford to keep their residence empty while they covered the expenses of their temporary “second” residence?

So, are we to castigate and deny rights solely to those who need or choose to make the prudent financial decision to rent out their home while on temporary assignment?

No President serves indefinitely. The maximum is eight years. No chief of staff that I can recall has lasted through two terms of office with a President. The job is clearly a temporary one.

Prior to serving as white house chief of staff, Mr. Emmanuel served as one of his state’s congressman. If he had similarly established his family in D.C. so as not to be so far away from them during the work week, would that have disqualified him from seeking office? Should wanting your family to be nearby during a lengthly, if temporary, assignment away from home be a disqualifying factor?

To me the answers are clear. Rahm Emmanuel deserves the right to be on the ballot and run for Mayor of Chicago. It’s up to the citizens of that great city to decide if he should have the honor of serving in that capacity.

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