For someone who used to fly on Air Force One and hold the second-most powerful job in Washington, it hasn’t been a smooth ride to Election Day for Rahm Emanuel.
The frontrunner to succeed retiring Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, Emanuel endured jeers for his advice to U.S. presidents, sat through hours of cross-examination from lawyers and residents over his Chicago bona fides, and had at least one egg thrown at him.
He led his nearest rival by 30 percentage points in a recent major poll, though, and could avoid a runoff if he gets more than 50 percent of the vote today. If he does, he’ll be in for even more bumps as Chicago’s next mayor confronts a declining population, pension shortfalls for city workers and a 2012 budget deficit forecast at more than $600 million.
“It’s going to be a hard, hard fight,” said Laurence Geller, 63, chief executive officer of Chicago-based Strategic Hotels & Resorts Inc., which operates the InterContinental Chicago and employs about 1,000 in the city. “The next mayor has enormous challenges ahead of him because the ship of state can’t float down this lane anymore.”
Emanuel, 51, would enter City Hall’s fifth-floor mayoral suite with the added burden of troubled labor relations. His White House role in helping President Bill Clinton win passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement and comments he made about unions as President Barack Obama’s chief of staff left lingering resentment.
‘Wall Street Judas’
The campaign in the third-most populous U.S. city devolved into name-calling in its closing days. Jim Sweeney, president of the 23,000-member Operating Engineers Local 150 and a supporter of Emanuel rival Gery Chico, last week called Emanuel a “Wall Street Judas” who sold out American workers for a “bag of silver he collected when he went and passed NAFTA.”
Chico’s campaign later said in a statement that he’s the father of three Jewish children “and it didn’t once occur to him that Jim was implying anything besides the fact that Rahm betrayed the workers of this city.”
Emanuel would be the city’s first Jewish mayor.
After leaving Clinton’s White House in 1998, he earned at least $17 million as an investment banker working for one of Clinton’s top fundraisers, the late Bruce Wasserstein, in the Chicago office of Wasserstein Perella & Co. His opponents have repeatedly questioned how he was able to make such a sum in three years with no previous business experience.
If Emanuel or any of his opponents fails to win more than 50 percent in today’s vote, the runoff between the top two candidates will be April 5. Daley, 68, is retiring in May after 22 years in office.
The contest will test organized labor’s get-out-the-vote prowess in Chicago, a city with a long tradition of union involvement in elections.
While Emanuel has secured endorsements from some unions, including the Teamsters Joint Council 25, more labor groups are backing Chico, a former Daley chief of staff who is Emanuel’s closest competitor. The council has 30,000 members in Chicago.
More than 10 percent of the city’s 2.7 million residents belong to unions, said Nick Kaleba, a spokesman for the Chicago Federation of Labor, which didn’t endorse a candidate. Nine out of 10 municipal employees are union members.
Emanuel, a former Chicago congressman, has been more vocal than Chico, 54, in his calls for “shared sacrifice” by public workers as the city seeks to address deficits. Repeated use of reserve funds to balance budgets led Standard & Poor’s to cut Chicago’s credit rating on Nov. 5 by one level to A+, the fifth highest grade.
Less than a week before early voting began Jan. 31, Emanuel’s name was off the ballot after an appellate court ruled that he didn’t meet a residency requirement for a mayoral candidate. The Illinois Supreme Court put him back on by unanimously ruling Jan. 27 that Emanuel, who had moved to Washington in 2009 to work for Obama, satisfied the law.
At a hearing in December, members of the public pummeled him with questions about his ties to the city. Emanuel, who was born in Chicago and grew up in the northern suburb of Wilmette, pointed out that valuables like china dishware and his wife’s wedding dress remained stored at their Chicago home when they left for Washington and rented out the property.
Emanuel remained composed in public before the election, not showing what he has acknowledged to be a sometimes expletive-laced, explosive personal style.
A Chicago Tribune/WGN-TV poll released Feb. 10 showed Emanuel with the support of 49 percent of likely voters, followed by Chico at 19 percent. Former U.S. Senator Carol Moseley Braun, City Clerk Miguel del Valle and all other candidates registered at 10 percent or less in the poll taken Feb. 5-9, with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.7 percentage points.
Emanuel raised $10.6 million through Jan. 19, four times as much as Chico, campaign disclosure records show. Since then, Emanuel has raised at least an additional $1.4 million.
He used the money -- and his two former presidential bosses -- in his television advertising. A January visit by Clinton provided video for one of the ads.
“You need a big mayor,” the ex-president said as his former aide -- who is 5 feet, 8 inches tall -- stood next to him on stage. “You’ve got big challenges.”
More than 70 people wrote checks of $50,000 or more to Emanuel’s campaign before the end of 2010, when a new Illinois campaign finance law took effect limiting contributions, records show.
He tapped his own Rolodex as well as that of his brother, Hollywood talent agent Ari Emanuel, the inspiration for one of the characters in the HBO series “Entourage,” to attract donors stretching from Wall Street to Hollywood and Silicon Valley.
Apple Inc. Chief Executive Officer Steve Jobs gave Emanuel $50,000, while Kenneth Griffin, CEO of Chicago-based hedge fund Citadel LLC, contributed $100,000, records show. David Geffen, co-founder of DreamWorks SKG, donated $100,000, and the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, the biggest U.S. futures exchange, gave him $200,000. Developer Donald Trump chipped in $50,000.
Obama, who still owns property in the city, hasn’t played an active role in the campaign, other than calling Emanuel “extraordinarily well qualified” to be mayor. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said last week that the president and first lady had filled out their absentee ballots, though he didn’t say how they voted.
“I don’t have to make calls for Rahm Emanuel,” Obama said at a Feb. 15 news conference in Washington. “He seems to be doing just fine on his own.”