Rahmbo Roars: Rahm Emanuel Elected Mayor of Chicago


rahm-emanuelRahm Emanuel, a top adviser to two U.S. presidents who returned to Chicago just months ago, has swept into the mayor’s office, inheriting a city reeling from recession and promising to reshape City Hall.

He achieved what was once considered almost unthinkable, collecting a majority of support against five opponents in the first Chicago election without a sitting mayor on the ballot since 1947.

In a city with its share of racial divisions, Emanuel appealed to voters across those lines. He won the predominantly white wards of his former congressional district on the North and Northwest sides. And the former chief of staff to President Barack Obama also scored substantial margins in predominantly African-American neighborhoods.

“All I can say, you sure know how to make a guy feel at home,” Emanuel, who faced a high-profile legal challenge to his residency, told a packed room at a plumbers union hall on the Near West Side. “Because of the people of Chicago, this is the warmest place in America.”

Emanuel will become Chicago’s first Jewish mayor and 46th overall. He’ll succeed Mayor Richard Daley, the city’s longest-serving chief executive.

Emanuel amassed 55.2 percent with 99.5 percent of city precincts counted, above the 50 percent-plus benchmark he needed to win outright to avoid an April runoff. Gery Chico had 24 percent, with Miguel del Valle at 9.3 percent and Carol Moseley Braun at 9 percent. Two lesser-known candidates, Patricia Van Pelt-Watkins and William “Dock” Walls, received 2.5 percent combined.

Emanuel won 40 of the city’s 50 wards, getting more than 70 percent of the vote in the heavily populated lakefront wards. Emanuel also won with more than 50 percent of the vote in wards with large African-American populations, racking up margins of at least 2-to-1 over the major black candidate, Braun.

Chico won the remaining 10 city wards. They were primarily Latino-heavy wards on the Southwest Side, where he was raised, and the West Side. Chico, Daley’s former chief of staff, also won the 19th and 41st wards, both with large populations of police and firefighters, whose unions endorsed him. Still, Chico’s vote advantage over Emanuel in those wards was not significant.

Turnout was 41 percent, nearly 10 points lower than election officials predicted.

Emanuel nodded to the tests facing the city and said he will deal with them head-on, but also by seeking help.

“Tonight, we are moving forward in the only way we truly can – together, as one city with one future,” he said. “The real work of building a better future begins tonight, and I intend to enlist … every one of you in our city.”

Less than two hours after the polls closed, all three major candidates opposing Emanuel conceded the race. After routinely butting heads with Emanuel in the final weeks of the campaign, Chico pledged to support the mayor-elect when he takes office.

“I want with all my heart for Rahm Emanuel to be successful,” said Chico, the former Chicago Board of Education president. “Let’s all work together to get behind the new mayor and make this the best city on the face of the Earth.”

A former U.S. senator, Braun did not mention Emanuel’s name in her concession speech but said she wished “the victor all the success in taking up the reins of government.”

As presidential adviser David Axelrod watched from a balcony, Emanuel told supporters he had received a congratulatory call from Obama, who later released a statement saying that “as a Chicagoan and a friend, I couldn’t be prouder. Rahm will be a terrific mayor for all the people of Chicago.”

Emanuel will ascend to City Hall’s fifth floor May 16, closing a lengthy chapter in Chicago’s political history. First elected in 1989, Daley has held the seat for longer than anyone since Chicago’s founding. Along with his late father, Richard J. Daley, the two ruled the city for all but 14 years since 1955.

Emanuel also said he spoke by phone with Daley and acknowledged that being his successor is “an impossible act to follow.”

The election marked the end of a sometimes peculiar campaign that stretched from fundraisers in skyscrapers to the city’s streets to a government building basement where Emanuel had to defend his position on the ballot.

The six-way contest, which started with 20 candidates before many dropped out or were booted from the ballot, was one that few foresaw before Labor Day. Coming back from the holiday weekend, Daley shocked the city by announcing he wouldn’t run for a record seventh term, explaining simply that “it’s time” to go.

Indeed, Emanuel months earlier made news in a national television interview when he said he longed to be Chicago mayor one day, though he made it clear he wouldn’t run against Daley.

So when the mayor made his announcement, Emanuel – already among the best-known potential candidates – suddenly rose to the top of the list of possible successors. It was a development some didn’t view as a coincidence, even though Daley never formally endorsed anybody. On Election Day, precinct committeemen in Daley’s ancestral Bridgeport in the 11th Ward handed out palm cards encouraging voters to cast ballots for Emanuel.

In a city that recently gave the nation its first black president and has drastically changed since it elected its first black mayor 28 years ago, Emanuel won by sticking to a post-racial theme that attracted whites and African-Americans already attracted to his work for Obama, as well as a sizable portion of a burgeoning Latino population.

He also used a combination of grit, discipline and cash to get his message across to voters through relentless commercials and a massive campaign operation.

In a matter of weeks last fall, Emanuel built a fundraising machine that raised more than $13 million for his bid, exceeding by millions his own internal goal and collecting nearly four times more than Chico, the next closest. Emanuel, who was a top fundraiser for Daley and President Bill Clinton, did much of the work himself but also got help from fundraisers who had worked for Obama and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

While the campaign received millions from local contributors, Emanuel also used his connections in national politics, as well as those of his brother, Hollywood agent Ari, to tap big-name Democratic donors as well as money managers. It was a point his opponents raised in questioning Emanuel’s vow to change business as usual in a city known for its historic corruption.

Still, the money allowed Emanuel to get a jump-start on his competition, airing commercials just after the November election, including two that featured Clinton and Obama, both of whom are popular among African-American voters.

Obama never formally endorsed anyone in the race. But Emanuel used footage from glowing comments the president made at Emanuel’s White House send-off, causing some mayoral opponents to grouse that the candidate was trying to fool voters.

The money also gave Emanuel the freedom to build a campaign organization that handled the pesky details of the street fight everyone knew the mayoral race would become. He stuck to a campaign theme of improving education, decreasing crime and building the city’s economy, three talking points the disciplined politician rarely departed from on the campaign trail.

The highly energetic Emanuel also sewed up support early, calling on community leaders and ward committeemen days or weeks before his opponents. Even before he left Washington, Emanuel was working his cell phone calling future supporters.

“It was like he had a nuclear bomb and everybody else had a fly swatter,” said Carol Ronen, an Emanuel supporter and 48th Ward Democratic committeemen.

Juan Rangel, a Daley ally and the head of United Neighborhood Organization, recalled Emanuel reaching out to him just days after Daley’s announcement. The two had met only once before, but Emanuel was calling to seek Rangel’s ideas, he said.

“It struck me because at that point several Latino candidates were considering running and none of them had called me,” said Rangel, who endorsed Emanuel. “And here was the chief of staff for the president of the United States and he was calling me asking about the issues.”

Of course, all of the work and money could have been for naught had a legal bid to have Emanuel removed from the ballot due to his residency been successful.

Veteran election attorney Burt Odelson ended up being one of Emanuel’s toughest opponents. He claimed Emanuel wasn’t eligible to run for mayor because he abandoned his Chicago residency when he went to work for Obama.

After the case wended its way through the city’s election board – including a raucous hearing in which the tough, sharp-tongued Emanuel won points for staying cool under questioning for more than 11 hours by citizens and activists – the state Supreme Court in late January ruled in Emanuel’s favor.

Throughout it all, Emanuel abided by his campaign’s plan to keep his head down and let his lawyers do their work while he stayed on message and tried to appear above the fray.

“This is better than a commercial, isn’t it?” Odelson asked at one point during the hearing.

“It’s actually cheaper,” Emanuel responded.

{Chicago Tribune/Matzav.com Newscenter}