CHICAGO — Former White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel is forging ahead with his campaign for Chicago mayor as if he's guaranteed a spot on the ballot, but the effort to kick him off continued to move through the courts Wednesday.
A residency challenge to Emanuel's bid to replace the retiring Mayor Richard Daley was heard before a three-judge panel of the Illinois Appellate Court, which did not immediately rule.
An attorney for two voters objecting to Emanuel's candidacy argued again that the Democrat doesn't meet the one-year residency requirement because he rented out his Chicago home and moved his family to Washington to work for President Barack Obama for nearly two years.
"If the house had not been abandoned by the whole family ... we wouldn't be here today," attorney Burt Odelson told the panel of judges, all three Democrats.
Odelson so far has had little luck trying to keep Emanuel off the Feb. 22 ballot. The Chicago Board of Election Commissioners and a Cook County judge have both ruled in favor of Emanuel, a former congressman, saying he didn't abandon his Chicago residency when he went to work at the White House.
Emanuel is one of six candidates vying to replace Daley, who didn't seek a seventh term. He moved back to Chicago in October after he quit working for Obama to campaign full-time.
Since then, Emanuel has been living in an apartment because the tenants renting his family's home refused to break their lease and move out early. Emanuel's wife and children are expected to return to Chicago after the school year ends.
At an unrelated news conference Wednesday, Emanuel appeared unfazed when asked about the court fight that has the potential to derail his mayoral campaign.
A smiling, relaxed-looking Emanuel said he was focused on campaigning.
"As it relates to worrying or not worrying (about a court ruling), I'll leave that to others," he said.
He cited the two other rulings that said he met the requirements to be on the ballot.
"Five independent people have looked at this and all come to the same conclusion," he said.
But that doesn't mean a higher court, such as the appellate and supreme courts, can't reverse course, Odelson said after losing his case earlier this month in circuit court.
Odelson said Wednesday he was prepared to go to the Illinois Supreme Court if he loses before the appellate court. So are Emanuel's lawyers.
The seven-member Supreme Court, made up of four Democrats and three Republicans, would have to decide whether to take the case.
During arguments before the appellate court, the three judges peppered lawyers on both sides with questions about residency and their legal arguments.
Emanuel's side has long maintained he didn't forfeit his Chicago residency while working for Obama in Washington because he always intended to return and left prized family possessions behind in their home even though it was rented.
"Can a person dwell conceptually?" Judge Thomas Hoffman asked at one point.
While Emanuel has had to deal with the ongoing residency challenge, his campaign on Wednesday also weathered tough criticism of a rally and fundraiser headlined the day before by former President Bill Clinton.
The campaign of one of Emanuel's opponents, former U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley Braun, had sharp words for Clinton, calling his visit to stump for a former top aide a "mistake."
"For him to come on the day following Dr. Martin Luther King's birthday to insert himself in the middle of a mayoral race, when the majority of the population and mayoral candidates are African American and Latino, is a betrayal of the people who were most loyal to him," Braun spokeswoman Renee Ferguson said in a statement.
Clinton came to support Emanuel despite a warning from a former mayoral candidate that he risked hurting his relationship with the black community because he wasn't endorsing an African-American candidate. Braun has been chosen as the unity candidate by black leaders.
At Tuesday's rally, Clinton also took on the critics leading the residency fight against Emanuel. Clinton read from his memoir about how Emanuel, when he became a congressman, thought Chicago "should be capital of the world."
"I wrote that in early 2004 before I had any idea he'd ever run for mayor or that anybody would consider him an outsider to Chicago," Clinton said. "That would come as an astonishing surprise to anyone who ever worked for me."
Associated Press writer Michael Tarm contributed to this report.