Rahm keeps his cool, wins the day and probably the mayor’s race

Rahm Emanuel sat for nearly 12 hours on Tuesday, fielding absurd questions from characters out of a farce, charitably, or an insane asylum, more accurately. He never lost his temper or uttered a single profanity. He showed impressive patience with citizen objectors who droned on about wacko conspiracy theories and asked such questions as, “Have you ever heard the term, ‘Smiling like a butcher’s dog?’ ”

The TV cameras, the print reporters monitoring this hearing — the question is whether Emanuel meets the requirement that he be a resident of Chicago in the year before the election — focused nonstop on Rahm. He placed a framed photo of his family on the table in front of him, and, as reporters repeatedly noted, would look at his wife and three children for sustenance. Such tender moments, and so many of them.

In hearing officer Joe Morris — scholar, conservative, member of the Federalist Society — Rahm could not have asked for a better ringmaster. Morris treated each objector and each of his or her lawyers with the utmost respect; he was fair to Rahm but no pushover for either side.

And then shortly after the hearing adjourned, a Chicago Tribune/WGN poll was released that showed Rahm at 32 percent, his closest two opponents at 9 percent — with more support in the Hispanic community than the two Hispanics who are running, and with surprisingly strong support in the African-American community.

Anyone going to the Tribune website also found a gallery of photos of the trim, athletic Rahmbo, not only at the hearing but on the campaign trail, and shedding a tear at Obama’s East Room farewell. I stopped looking after No. 27.

If the other candidates did anything yesterday, nobody noticed.

While writing this at mid-afternoon on Wednesday, I received an e-mailed press release from the press secretary to Gery Chico, the most experienced and, I believe, most serious challenger to Emanuel. If forced to guess now, I’d predict Chico, who has wielded the leadership role at the city’s schools, parks and colleges, will keep Emanuel under 50 percent in the nonpartisan primary on Feb. 22, and will give him a tough challenge in the runoff election April 5.

The press secretary wrote that Chico would be appearing that night at one of the city’s most elite public high schools, Walter Payton, for a “Chicago Mayoral Forum on Education.” Several of the other mayoral candidates would also be there, but not Emanuel. As the front-runner, he’s avoiding these forums. Instead of noting his absence, the media will likely remain focused on Rahm’s residency hearing, which continues Wednesday and Thursday.

My guess is that Rahm wins this residency battle, stays on the ballot and ultimately becomes mayor. When he looks back at the campaign, he’ll see that grueling day as a gift — of incalculable free advertising and momentum.

More in Business & Lobbying

Faith firm racks up court wins

Read more »