Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel
CHICAGO–Former White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel was elected mayor of Chicago on Tuesday, easily overwhelming five rivals to take the helm of the nation’s third-largest city as it prepares to chart a new course without the retiring Richard M. Daley.
Emanuel trounced all opponents with 55 percent of the vote–a margin that allowed him to avoid an April runoff. He needed more than 50 percent to win outright.
It was the city’s first mayoral race in more than 60 years without an incumbent on the ballot and the first in more than two decades without Daley among the candidates. Daley and his father have led Chicago for more than 43 out of the last 56 years.
Emanuel called the victory “humbling” and said the outgoing mayor had “earned a special place in our hearts and our history.”
But he added: “We have not won anything until a kid can go to school thinking of their studies and not their safety. Until the parent of that child is thinking about their work and not where they are going to find work, we have not won anything.”
Reginald Bachus, the 51-year-old pastor of a West Side church who voted for Emanuel, said the next four years will be “a very critical time for Chicago.
“We really need a mayor who has vision. It’s my personal opinion everyone else would have been a manager, and I think Rahm has vision,” Bachus said.
The other major candidates–former Chicago schools president Gery Chico, former Sen. Carol Moseley Braun and City Clerk Miguel del Valle–had hoped to force a runoff that would have extended the campaign for six more weeks. But they were no match for Emanuel’s momentum and money.
Chico had 24 percent of the vote compared with 9 percent for both del Valle and Braun. Two lesser-known candidates got 1 and 2 percent each.
The campaign began last fall when Daley–with an ailing wife, six terms under his belt and a future in which Chicago’s fiscal challenges loomed large–announced he would not seek re-election.
Emanuel, a 51-year-old married father of three, will be the city’s first Jewish mayor when he takes office on May 16. He’s a well-known figure in national Democratic politics, having worked for two presidents and represented Chicago’s North Side in the House of Representatives for three terms.
He visited all 50 wards and made regular stops at all the city’s elevated train stations. He talked confidently about local issues–mass transit, bike paths and after-school programs–and refused to be goaded.
Emanuel had just been elected to his fourth term in Congress when he resigned in 2008 to work for President Barack Obama, a fellow Chicagoan. It was a job he held until he resigned in October 2010 to run for mayor. He had also worked as a top aide to Bill Clinton.
Obama quickly sent his congratulations to the mayor-elect. “As a Chicagoan and a friend, I couldn’t be prouder,” the president said in a statement. “Rahm will be a terrific mayor for all the people of Chicago.”
Emanuel’s relationship with Obama won him votes from a number of people who believed his White House connections would be an advantage.
Obama political adviser David Axelrod said Chicago would get “whatever the city’s entitled to. … And I don’t think Rahm will leave one dollar on the table.”
The new mayor faces a daunting series of challenges, including fixing the city’s dire finances, addressing underfunded employee pensions and confronting a shrinking urban population.
Emanuel may come under pressure to raise taxes and cut services and public employee benefits, though those measures would be politically difficult.
As recently as January, Emanuel’s candidacy was imperiled by a legal challenge to knock him off the ballot over the city’s requirement that candidates live in the city for at least one year prior to running.
“Thank you, Chicago, for this humbling victory. … You sure know how to make a guy feel at home.”