'Mayor Emanuel' Is No Sure Thing in Chicago

With Richard Daley stepping aside, U.S. Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel may enter the race for mayor

(Update adds Daley comments beginning in 13th paragraph)

(Bloomberg) — Even the chief of staff to the first U.S. president from Chicago could face challenges in trying to win the top job in a city where someone named Daley has ruled for 42 of the past 55 years. Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley's announcement yesterday that he wouldn't seek a seventh term altered the political landscape in Illinois in a shake up that could stretch to Washington.

While White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, 50, has said he is interested in the job, he would enter the race with baggage in Chicago, where he sharpened his political elbows as a Daley confidant and then a congressman. "I don't think there is such a thing as frontrunner," said JPMorgan Chase & Co. Midwest Chairman William Daley, the mayor's brother, a former U.S. commerce secretary and an Emanuel friend.

Other political experts agree that the opening is likely to attract a large number of candidates and that Emanuel, who still owns a home in the city, wouldn't have the field to himself. "He's an opportunist, but he's got his work cut out for him," said John McCarron, an urban affairs writer and adjunct professor at DePaul University in Chicago.

If he runs, Emanuel is likely to face questions about help he received from a Daley patronage army to win a congressional seat in 2002 and conversations he had with former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich about who should be picked to fill the U.S. Senate seat vacated by President Barack Obama.

Radio and television stations in Chicago were abuzz almost immediately after Daley's announcement with speculation about who besides Emanuel might run, with names ranging from aldermen to Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan to congressmen. Nov. 22 is the last day to file nomination papers for the Feb. 22 election.

'A Good Thing'

"It's a good thing," said Alderman Scott Waguespack, who is contemplating a run for mayor. "It will allow someone to come in with a new vision for how an open city should be run."

One prominent Chicagoan unlikely to join the long list of contenders is presidential adviser Valerie Jarrett, who once hired Michelle Obama while serving as a top aide to Daley.

An administration official said he doubted Jarrett would run because she loves her work and the first family too much to leave the White House now.

Daley Confident

Daley told reporters at a City Hall news conference today that he had worked hard enough in the job that he was confident he could win re-election. "I knew I was not going to lose," he said. "Don't say I'm arrogant."

Since his announcement, Daley said he had spoken with Obama, Emanuel, former Vice President Al Gore, Oprah Winfrey, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn, and David Axelrod, a senior presidential adviser.

"They all called and just thanked me for 21 years of public service," he said. "We did not get into politics." Daley said he didn't plan to endorse anyone in the race and declined to speculate about Emanuel's possible bid. "I think there will be a lot of candidates," he said. "This is the best job in America."

Robert Gibbs, White House press secretary said members of the administration are aware of Emanuel's long interest in the mayor's job and that "something like that doesn't come around a lot."

Emanuel's Future

He said he didn't know whether Emanuel has discussed his plans with the president. "I have no doubt that he'll take some time to think about what he wants to do with his future," Gibbs told reporters aboard Air Force One as Obama traveled to a speech in Ohio. "But I think his focus right now is on his job as chief of staff."

Axelrod, who worked with Emanuel on Daley's first successful run for mayor in 1989, said he was "a little stunned" by the announcement. "We're just absorbing that news and, you know, the impact that it will have on Chicago, which will be large," Axelrod said. "You know he's an enormous presence there, and it's really grown in wonderful ways under his leadership."

Daley, 68, made his announcement at a City Hall news conference where he was surrounded by his wife, Maggie, and other family members.

It's Time

"It's time," he said. "It's time for me. It's time for Chicago to move on."

The son of the late Mayor Richard J. Daley is serving his sixth term as the leader of the third-largest U.S. city by population. The younger Daley's tenure was marked by his takeover of the city's school system, the demolition of public housing built during his father's tenure, corruption scandals and a failed bid to win the 2016 Summer Olympics.

"Improving Chicago has been the ongoing work of my life," Daley said. "I loved every minute of it." Speculation about whether he would run again intensified after Chicago was bounced in the first round of last year's competition for the Olympics.

More than half of Chicago voters said they didn't want to see Daley re-elected, according to a Chicago Tribune/WGN-TV poll in July that also found that 37 percent of city voters approved of the job he is doing.

Former Congressman

Emanuel, who served three terms in the U.S. House representing part of Chicago's North Side before being picked by Obama for the White House job, said in April he would be interested in the job if Daley didn't run. "That's always been an aspiration of mine," Emanuel said in an interview on PBS television's Charlie Rose Show. "If Mayor Daley doesn't, one day I would like to run for mayor."

Emanuel worked as a senior strategist and chief fundraiser for Daley in his 1989 campaign, before working for the 1992 Bill Clinton presidential campaign and then in the White House.

Daley may have chosen not to run because of his wife's almost decade-long fight with breast cancer and the stubborn nature of the city's problems, McCarron said. Daley was angered by a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June that rendered the city's 28-year-old handgun ban unenforceable. "It had stopped being fun," McCarron said. "The problems he cared the most about had become intractable."

Budget Trouble

In the past two years in particular, Daley has faced challenges surrounding a weak economy and budget shortfalls that have triggered city worker layoffs and unpaid furlough days. Chicago is forecast to have a $654.7 million deficit in a $3.39 billion budget for 2011, according to a July 30 estimate from the city. Daley filled holes in the current $3.12 billion budget by transferring cash reserves from the earlier privatization of parking meters, garages and a tollway.

In a city where the first Mayor Daley served from 1955 until he suffered a heart attack and died in office in 1976, the son will pass his father's record for time in office late this year. Politicians from Washington to Springfield, Illinois, praised Daley, who has played important roles in both Illinois and national politics.

"No mayor in America has loved a city more or served a community with greater passion than Rich Daley," Obama said in a statement. "He helped build Chicago's image as a world class city, and leaves a legacy of progress that will be appreciated for generations to come."

The Reverend Jesse Jackson, whose son, Representative Jesse Jackson Jr., has been mentioned as a potential mayoral candidate, offered a less upbeat assessment. "His strength was downtown urban development, more so than in neighborhood community development," Jackson said in a statement. "The next mayor will face the burden of huge deficits and a city that is virtually insolvent."

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