The decision appeared to bring an end to weeks of legal debate over whether Mr. Emanuel qualified for the ballot, specifically whether his time in Washington as President Obama’s chief of staff meant that he had given up his residency status in Chicago, where he was born. By Illinois state code, candidates for mayor are required to have resided in Chicago for at least one year before Election Day. Mr. Emanuel left the White House in October, and the election is Feb. 22.
Moments after ruling was issued late Thursday, Mr. Emanuel was shaking hands with voters at a downtown "L"-train stop, where many had yet to hear the outcome, and asked what had happened. Mr. Emanuel, who appeared cheery as a mob of cameras rolled, said that he had no control over what had happened but was pleased that the voters now had some sense of certainty for the election ahead.
“We stayed focused on the concerns of the voters,” Mr. Emanuel said, of a week that had, however briefly, turned the city’s politics upside down. The word “resident,” Mr. Emanuel granted, would no longer be permitted in his family’s regular Scrabble games. Then he was off to a televised debate of the candidates.
Legal experts said the state Supreme Court’s decision was probably a final answer to Mr. Emanuel’s situation, which has left this city puzzled and reeling, even as early voting is to start on Monday.
"This is the end of the road," said Burt Odelson, an attorney who represented the two clients who had challenged Mr. Emanuel’s status.
Throughout the challenges to Mr. Emanuel’s candidacy, he had confidently asserted that he would be allowed to run, and had proceeded with routine campaign events as if there was no crisis.
The decision is certain to come as a disappointment to the campaigns of other candidates — especially Gery Chico, a former mayoral chief of staff, and Carol Moseley Braun, a former United States senator — who would have benefited enormously from Mr. Emanuel being knocked off the ballot, and had seemed, however briefly, to have entirely new prospects of becoming mayor.
Not surprisingly, though, the other candidates were quick to downplay the significance of the entire episode, insisting that they were pleased to at last move on with a real debate over Chicago’s crucial issues.
“Emanuel's residency drama has made this election into a circus instead of a serious debate about thefuture of Chicago,” Mr. Chico said in a statement issued within moments of the decision. “With less than 30 days to go until Election Day, there is no time to waste. Game on.”
Miguel del Valle, the city clerk and another candidate, sounded a similar note: “As I have said throughout my campaign, this has served as a real distraction that has kept people from focusing on the issues that are of concern to the neighborhoods of the city of Chicago — our neighborhood schools, public safety, and fixing our budget deficit.”
Ever since Mayor Richard M. Daley, this city’s longest-serving mayor, announced in September that he would, at last, retire, Mr. Emanuel has been viewed as something of a front-runner. A wide array of candidates, by now, has shrunk to six, and Mr. Emanuel has held significant leads in polling and fund-raising. The election is non-partisan but all the major candidates are Democrats.
Before this past week of fast-shifting announcements — that he was off, then back on the ballot — some voters had begun to wonder not if, but when Mr. Emanuel would win. If no candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote on Feb. 22, the top two vote-getters move on to a run-off election on April 5.
In recent months, challenges to Mr. Emanuel’s candidacy were dismissed by a local election board, then by a trial judge. But on Monday, a panel of the Illinois Appellate Court found that Mr. Emanuel did not qualify to run, saying he had to physically live in the city — not just own property and pay taxes here — to run. Mr. Emanuel’s lawyers had balked at the interpretation, and appealed their case to the state Supreme Court, even as elections officials struggled with which ballot to print.
On Tuesday, the election workers printed 300,000 ballots without Mr. Emanuel’s name (as the Appellate Court had ordered), then printed hundreds of thousands more with his name (as the Supreme Court ordered when they agreed to consider the case).