PI Original Micah Maidenberg Wednesday December 15th, 2010, 3:51pm

Rahm's Hearing And The First Mayoral Forum

We wrap up what was a busy Tuesday in Chicago's mayoral battle.

Tuesday marked something of a new phase in Chicago's mayoral race.

After weeks of discussion about Rahm Emanuel's ability to stand for municipal office in Chicago, the legal proceedings that will provide at least an initial answer to that question finally started yesterday a hair after 9 a.m. In a downtown basement conference room crowded with attorneys, reporters, and on-lookers, Emanuel began responding to the objectors challenging his status as a resident of the city of Chicago.

On Tuesday evening, voters finally got their first chance to see some of the candidates mix it up in a mayoral forum. Six contenders seeking the city's top job spent their evening hearing testimony from community-based organizations and answering questions about their visions for Chicago before a boisterous crowd that packed into a University of Illinois hall on the city's Near West Side.

The outcome of the challenges to Emanuel is certainly a potential game-changer, given that the first independent poll of the mayoral race places the former congressmen and presidential chief of staff in the lead. Last night's forum, meanwhile, injected a different kind of energy into the race, forcing the candidates who participated to directly face organized city voters -- and each other.

Emanuel's residency hearing continues today, and there are two more mayoral forums scheduled for this week.

Emanuel under the microscope

For much of the morning yesterday, the attorneys challenging Emanuel's place on the mayoral ballot focused on his utility payments, leases, voter registrations, vehicle stickers, car registrations, tax returns, newspaper subscriptions, mail forwarding addresses, and homeowner's exemption -- the everyday files of Emanuel's private and civic life.

During his examination of Emanuel, Burt Odelson, lead counsel for several objectors, elicited into the record that Emanuel amended his 2009 Illinois tax return last month, which was initially submitted listing Emanuel and his wife as part-time Illinois residents; that on November 14 he filed a certificate of error with the Cook County Assessor's Office to get a homeowner's exemption for 2009; and that he rented out his home on Chicago's North Side to the Halpins while leasing a place in Washington, D.C. for his own family.

In a case that will come down to questions about Emanuel's intent to return to Chicago, Odelson asked him about where presidential adviser David Axelrod and President Barack Obama stay when they are in Chicago. Both have homes here -- the Axelrods in a high-rise near downtown, Obama in his South Side home -- that they can occupy when they return to the city. That's not something Emanuel is able to do, because the Halpins hold a lease on the home until June 30 of next year (they declined Emanuel's request o be bought out of the lease shortly after Mayor Daley announced he was retiring).

One of Emanuel's attorneys objected to these questions, calling them "completely irrelevant."

"I'm asking questions about the actual physical presence," of people who live in Chicago but work in D.C., Odelson replied. It's about intent, he said, "the essence of the case." Joseph Morris, the hearing officer presiding over the objectors' case, sided with Odelson.

Odelson returned to Emanuel's physical presence in Chicago on several occasions, getting it into the record that Emanuel was in the city just two or three times between February 22 and October of this year. Below is a clip showing one of those exchanges; Emanuel, of course, must demonstrate that he was a resident of Chicago for a year prior to the February 22, 2011 election. Watch:

Emanuel pointed out evidence during the hearing that his side will likely say attests to his intention to return to Chicago. In the storage room in the basement of his North Side home he noted he left behind dozens of boxes containing significant family items -- photo albums, his wife's wedding gown, and a leather jacket of his grandfather's, for example. Furniture, clothing, and dishware accompanied Emanuel and his family's move to Washington. The implication is you don't leave such valuable property in a place without planning to return to possess it again.

As the hearing shifted into the afternoon and objectors without legal representation took the podium to examine Emanuel, the questions took what Morris described at one point during the hearing as a "classic when-did-you-stop-beating-your-wife" quality. A sampling of those:

"Is it safe to say by you not being a resident of the city of Chicago you should withdraw from this race?"

"What happens to the people of Chicago if we don't indict Rahm?"

"Do you feel you're above the law?"

And such questions brought a rapid-fire series of objections from Emanuel's lawyers, which were sustained by Morris, who occasionally pleaded with the objectors to elicit new information from Emanuel. There were outbursts (one man threatened to have Morris arrested, accusing him of racketeering) and occasional humorous asides (Paul McKinley, perhaps conjuring the ghost of deceased Wisconsin Sen. Joseph McCarthy, ended his questions by asking, "Have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?").

Throughout the latter part of the hearing, Morris, the objectors, and Emanuel's legal team tangled about the use of the word "reside," with Morris often rephrasing questions or telling objectors to use the phrase "bodily present" or a variation thereof.

The hearing is set to continue this afternoon.

New Chicago 2011 hosts six candidates

While Emanuel remained under oath and in the hot seat downtown, members of nearly 30 different community groups and social service organizations slowly began filing into the UIC Forum on Roosevelt Road around 5:30 last night.

By the time the New Chicago 2011 forum began about an hour later, the forum's main hall was packed with people, from a diverse range or organizations. Here's a clip of representatives shouting-out their groups before the crowd and Carol Moseley Braun, Danny Davis, Gery Chico, Miguel del Valle, James Meeks, and Patricia Van-Pelt Watkins, the mayoral candidates who participated:

During their opening remarks, many of the candidates sought to appeal to a downtown versus neighborhood sensibility or play up their record fighting for specific groups or causes.

Moseley Braun noted she marched with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at age 14 and long backed gay rights and choice for women. Del Valle told the crowd, "The future development of the city has to be an agenda that is a neighborhood agenda -- not a downtown agenda, not a business agenda." State Sen. James Meeks said downtown tax increment financing dollars should be used to redevelop neighborhoods.

The forum was structured such that representatives from different groups in the building gave testimony about a specific issue -- housing, violence and youth, and jobs -- before the candidates gave their best one-minute responses. "It forced the candidates to deal with real people," Yeheil Curry, with the group Southsiders Organized for Unity and Liberation, told Progress Illinois after the event ended.

Here is Danny Davis talking about his ideas for dealing with youth violence:

Del Valle took a question about the future of public transportation in Chicago:

Moseley Braun discussed her immigration stance:

New Chicago 2011 deserves credit for pulling this event off; it marks the first time the candidates have been forced to take the stage together. They mixed it up too. Del Valle criticized Emanuel's positions on immigration reform again, and Moseley Braun hit Gery Chico for his positions at the Board of Eduction.

Chico, probably the most centrist of the candidates at the forum, was booed when he defended his support of CPS's school closing policies and shot back at Moseley Braun. Watch:

The forum also broached a number of issues that heretofore hadn't been discussed much. Meeks talked about creating pathways to education and options for young people who have committed a crime and are in the criminal justice system. Davis said the Board of Eduction should be an elected body. Del Valle told the crowd he supported a living wage for all workers in Chicago.

Eric Tellez, a spokesperson for the Grassroots Collaborative, pointed out that most of the organizations present last night were non-profits and therefore will not be endorsing any specific campaign. But he expected them to bring the issues raised last night up in local forums and events. The point was to raise issues, educate voters, and send a message to the candidates, according to Tellez.

"We wanted to be sure that ... in this race our neighborhoods are not neglected again," he said.


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