Steve Chapman

To many people who dislike the Obama administration, Rahm Emanuel is the sordid embodiment of the Chicago Way. But to his enemies on the shores of Lake Michigan, he is to Chicago what Brett Favre is to Green Bay: a refugee, not a resident.

Having leased out his Northwest Side home after becoming White House chief of staff, Emanuel faces a potential lawsuit claiming he is ineligible to pursue his next ambition, becoming mayor of Chicago. The city code says you have to be a resident of the city for at least a year to run, and for the last couple of years, Emanuel has been bunking elsewhere.

Whether the argument will stand up in court is in doubt, since he has kept his Chicago voting registration and his Illinois driver's license, and since he clearly intended to return. But the dispute does make something clear: the silliness of residency requirements for public office.

Emanuel is not the only Chicago mayoral candidate who could be challenged on grounds of domicile. State Sen. James Meeks, pastor of Salem Baptist Church on the South Side, owns a home in South Holland, which he says he bought for his father. Ald. Sandi Jackson, wife of U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson, has a place in Washington, where their children go to school.

But legal issues aside, why should we care where a candidate gets her mail and buys her groceries? The American tradition is on the side of indifference, which is right where it should be.

The Constitution takes a relaxed attitude on the subject. Members of the U.S. House of Representatives are not required to live in the districts they represent, and some don't.

Democrat Melissa Bean has been elected three times from Illinois' Eighth District, where she can't vote. Democrat Luis Gutierrez of Chicago got elected while living in the Fourth District but later moved out. Democrat Mazie Hirono of Hawaii makes her home outside her congressional boundaries. And nobody cares.

U.S. senators are required to live in the states they represent -- as if that rule means anything. Hillary Clinton, who was raised in Illinois, educated in Massachusetts and Connecticut, and spent many years in the Arkansas governor's mansion, didn't run in any of those states. She ran in New York, and she won by a landslide.

She was following the 1964 example of Robert F. Kennedy, an import whose critics sent him carpetbags for his birthday, which he presumably took to his new office in Washington. In 2004, Alan Keyes decamped from Maryland to Illinois to run against an incumbent named Barack Obama. In each case, critics portrayed the candidates as opportunistic interlopers.

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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