CHICAGO – Suddenly the campaign to replace retiring Mayor Richard M. Daley looks like an actual race.
For months, three of the main candidates struggled for attention while former White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel outpolled and outraised them, blanketed the airwaves with television ads and gained the endorsement of former President Bill Clinton, who came to town to campaign for Emanuel.
With an Illinois Appellate Court knocking Emanuel off the ballot because he didn't live in the city for a year before the Feb. 22 election, former U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley Braun, city Clerk Miguel del Valle and former Chicago schools chief Gery Chico suddenly found themselves in the spotlight — and trying to win over Emanuel supporters who suddenly may be up for grabs.
Even as Emanuel vowed to fight the decision, Braun was urging voters to join her campaign "with your time, your effort or your money."
"I'm extending a hand of friendship to all the Chicagoans who have been supporting Mr. Emanuel and all those who haven't made their minds up yet," she said. "Going forward, we pledge to work to create a city great enough to provide opportunity for every family. But we can only do this if we come together."
Reporters surrounding former Chicago Public Schools president Chico outside a restaurant asked him if he was a front-runner — something that seemed inconceivable last week when a Chicago Tribune/WGN poll showed him with the support of 16 percent of voters surveyed compared with a whopping 44 percent for Emanuel. The same poll showed Braun with 21 percent support, and city Clerk Miguel del Valle with 7 percent.
"I'm trying to get every vote I can from everybody in this city," said Chico, who released records last week showing he had just over $2 million at his disposal, about one-fourth of the money available to Emanuel.
In their 2-1 ruling Monday overturning a lower court decision, the appellate justices said Emanuel met the requirements to vote in Chicago but not to run for mayor because he had been living in Washington.
Challengers to Emanuel's candidacy argued the Democrat did not qualify because he rented out his Chicago home and moved his family to Washington to work for President Barack Obama for nearly two years. Emanuel — who quit his job and moved back to Chicago in October after Daley announced he would not to seek a seventh term — has said he always intended to return to Chicago and was living in Washington at the president's request.
Emanuel's lawyers promptly asked the state's highest court to stay the appellate ruling and hear an appeal as soon as possible. Lawyers also asked the court to tell Chicago election officials to keep his name on the ballot if it starts to print them. The Chicago Board of Election Commissioners said it would start printing ballots on Tuesday without Emanuel's name; early voting starts next Monday.
The Supreme Court could act as early as Tuesday.
Appellate litigation attorney Christopher Keleher said it's likely the court would rule against Emanuel.
"I can tell you from experience that getting a reversal from any Supreme Court is difficult — even more so when you've got a truncated time frame," Keleher said.
But Emanuel said he was forging ahead.
"I have no doubt that we will in the end prevail at this effort. This is just one turn in the road," Emanuel said, adding that the "people of the city of Chicago deserve the right to make the decision on who they want to be their next mayor."
If he doesn't win the appeal, the race takes on a whole new dynamic. In a city with huge blocs of black, white and Hispanic voters, the Chicago Tribune/WGN poll showed Emanuel leading among all of them, even though his three top rivals are minorities.
Laura Washington, a local political commentator who writes a column for the Chicago Sun-Times, said if Emanuel is out, Chico, who is Hispanic, could be the big winner in terms of fundraising.
"Rahm has the establishment support, the civic leaders, business community, the money class, and Chico is as close to that type of candidate as anyone," said. "They'd take Chico as a second choice, easily."
But Braun would be the big winner among black voters, she said. The recent poll showed Emanuel with the support of 40 percent of black voters compared with 39 percent for Braun, even though two other prominent black candidates dropped out of the race to try to unify the black vote.
But 27-year-old Thurman Hammond, who is black, said he never cared for Braun and planned to vote for Emanuel "because he was part of the Obama camp." If he can't, he said, he'll "have to do my homework" on the other candidates.
Others also said they would have to reevaluate the field.
Sara Grosby, 58, said she would consider Braun — although she's hoping she doesn't have to.
"In my opinion (Emanuel) already was a civil servant, working for Obama. I would think the court could cut him some slack," said Grosby, an aviation security worker at O'Hare International Airport.
Del Valle, another Hispanic candidate, said Emanuel's quandary bodes well for the other candidates, regardless of what the court does.
"Now voters see there's an opportunity to look at the field and give candidates either a second look or in some cases a first look," del Valle said. "People are going to pay more attention to the other candidates."
Associated Press writers Don Babwin, Deanna Bellandi, Sophia Tareen and Michael Tarm contributed to this report.