CHICAGO (AP) -- Former White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel can run for Chicago mayor although he spent much of the last two years living in Washington while working for President Barack Obama, the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners ruled Thursday.
With the board's decision, Emanuel clears a major hurdle in his bid to replace retiring Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley. 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.
An election board hearing officer, who had presided over days of testimony in residency challenges to Emanuel's candidacy, recommended early Thursday that Emanuel's name be allowed on the ballot, saying evidence suggests that he had no intention of terminating his residency in Chicago, left the city only to work for Obama and often told friends he intended to live in Washington for no more than two years.
"Illinois law expressly protects the residential status and electoral rights of Illinois residents who are called to serve the national government," hearing officer Joseph Morris , a Republican attorney in private practice in Chicago, wrote in his 35-page ruling.
Earlier Thursday, Emanuel said she he was encouraged by the officer's recommendation.
"Chicago voters should ultimately have the right to decide the election -- and to vote for me or against me," Emanuel said in a statement before the board made its ruling.
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 TV 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.