Rahm Emanuel's Chicago mayor candidacy challenged on residency

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Former White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel defended himself at a hearing on Tuesday against doubters that he was a Chicago resident and thus ineligible to run for mayor in next year’s election.

Emanuel answered questions curtly and sometimes with humor about the Chicago house he rented out which the lease-holder refused to vacate, and about a mistake on one of his tax returns that showed a Washington, D.C., address.

Emanuel was born in Chicago and served as a Democratic congressman from the city’s North Side from 2002 until 2009. He then joined President Barack Obama’s staff, resigning in October to run for mayor of the third-largest U.S. city.

Attorney Burt Odelson kicked off questioning by some two-dozen challengers who have asked a panel of the Board of Election Commissioners in Chicago to probe Emanuel about his residency and perhaps knock him off the crowded mayoral ballot.

Emanuel’s name recognition and access to campaign funds had made him the instant favorite in the race.

“During the years 2009 and 2010 did you ever appear at the Chicago Board of Elections to show proof of residence anywhere?” Odelson asked, referring to questions about whether Emanuel had his Chicago voting status restored improperly.

“No,” Emmanuel replied.

“You are aware, now, of the Chicago law” regarding residency, Odelson asked, to which Emanuel smiled.

Shown photographs of his North Side home largely emptied of furniture, Emanuel identified various rooms and then jabbed at his interlocutor when asked to identify the kitchen.

“Very good Mr. Odelson. You pass U.S. history for $200,” Emanuel joked.

Emanuel said precious family possessions -- his grandfather’s coat, his wife’s wedding dress, his children’s clothes, books -- were stored in the basement of the home he had rented to Chicago attorney Rob Halpin.

Emanuel said when he offered to compensate Halpin to break the lease before it expired June 30, 2011, Halpin refused. Halpin later staged an aborted run for mayor himself.

Emanuel said his tax return with Washington address was prepared by an accountant and the mistake was corrected in a subsequent amended filing.

Outgoing Chicago Mayor Richard Daley and other defenders of the famously combative political operative have said the hearing is a sham and Emanuel was serving his country in Washington, but others say the objection to Emanuel’s candidacy in the February 22 election is legitimate.

One woman attending the hearing announced loudly she had heard enough when one of Emanuel’s questioners asked how often he had visited the city in the past year.

“Boo, boo,” the woman shouted. “You are making a circus of state law. Your hearing is out of order,” she said before being escorted out.

“The nuthouse is open,” another woman commented.

Writing by Andrew Stern; Editing by Jerry Norton