Emanuel back on the ballot in Chicago election

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It looked tricky there for a while, but finally it seems that Rahm Emanuel, the former White House Chief of Staff, will be on the ballot papers when the citizens of Chicago go to the polls next month to choose a new mayor.

From the day last October when he left his post as Barack Obama's political enforcer to run for the Windy City's top job, Mr Emanuel has been stalked by a seemingly irresolvable quandary: given that he had been in Washington all that time how could he properly describe himself as a "resident" of Chicago, as the city's election rules required?

On Thursday evening, just as Mr Emanuel was heading out to meet voters, news came that the Illinois Supreme Court had finally settled the issue in his favour: he had been away but had technically remained a resident, keeping a home and paying taxes in Chicago. And so, yes, he could run.

Even Mr Emanuel struggled to describe his relief. "I don't know where my emotions are at," he told one reporter shortly after hearing the news. City officials who must organise for polling day on 22 February were surely glad too. The only disappointed ones, of course, were the three other main candidates.

Things for Rahm the Ruthless, as he is sometimes known, had been a lot less certain through most of last week. Suspense nearly turned to despair on Monday when a panel of three judges on the Illinois Appellate Court overturned two previous rulings and declared that he did not meet the conditions to run for office in Illinois. The mood at campaign headquarters did not improve when the city starting printing ballot papers omitting his name.

While his lawyers rushed to implore action from the Supreme Court, Mr Emanuel went on campaigning as if nothing untoward had happened. His old boss, Mr Obama, had telephoned to say he was on his side and Mr Emanuel told anyone who would listen that Chicagoans, not a bunch of judges, should decide who should be their mayor.

Mr Emanuel is no stranger to stress and drama, and though his supporters may be nursing ulcers he will know that the endless headlines about his residency problem will have done him little harm. The latest polls give him a double-digit lead over his rivals, who include the former US Senator Carol Moseley Braun. Their attempts to refocus attention on Chicago's rising crime rates and sales tax levels have been mostly in vain.

And their protestations that the end of the drama is good news for everyone did not quite ring true. "Oh, am I so glad. It's been a distraction," insisted Miguel del Valle, another of his rivals in the race to replace the incumbent mayor, Richard M Daley. "Chicago is hungry for this. They want to hear about issues, not about residency. So, I'm glad," he said.

"Emanuel's residency drama has made this election into a circus instead of a serious debate about the future of Chicago," said Gery Chico, a former senior aide to Mr Daley and also a candidate. "With less than 30 days to go until Election Day, there is no time to waste. Game on."

By yesterday the ballot papers that did not feature Mr Emanuel's name – hundreds and thousands of them – were being shredded and new ones were spewing from the city printers. For Mr Emanuel it means that victory next month seems almost assured barring some other extraneous bombshell.

"The voters deserved the right to make the choice of who should be mayor," he said after the ruling. "And I think what the Supreme Court said was, basically, that the voters will make the decision."