Rahm Emanuel with supporters at the Journeymen Plumbers' Union Local 130 Hall
Scott Olson  /  Getty Images
Rahm Emanuel celebrates with supporters at the Journeymen Plumbers' Union Local 130 Hall after winning the Chicago mayoral election on Tuesday.
updated 2/23/2011 10:31:23 AM ET 2011-02-23T15:31:23

Former White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel was elected mayor of Chicago, easily overwhelming five rivals to take the helm of the third-largest U.S. 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.

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Emanuel called the victory "humbling" and thanked Daley for his lifetime of service, saying 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."

President Barack 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."

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.

Daley's decision not to seek re-election
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 is 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's also known as an abrasive, often profane political operative with a famous take-no-prisoners style. But Emanuel was on his best behavior on the campaign trail, where his swagger and hard edges gave way to unusual calm.

Emanuel had just been elected to his fourth congressional term when he resigned in 2008 to work for Obama as White House chief of staff. 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.

Video: Daley faces big challenges

Some daunting challenges
The new mayor faces a daunting series of challenges, including fixing the city's finances, addressing underfunded employee pensions and confronting a shrinking urban population.

Emanuel will have to decide on a strategy for improving the city's dire finances and may come under pressure to raise taxes and cut services and public employee benefits, though those measures would be politically difficult.

His win capped off a campaign that also included an unsuccessful 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. Emanuel moved back to Chicago in October after Daley announced he would not seek a seventh term.

The matter went all the way to the Illinois Supreme Court, which overturned a lower-court ruling that briefly threw Emanuel off the ballot.

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Video: Rahm Emanuel elected mayor of Chicago

Timeline: Rahm Emanuel

Explainer: A Windy City political dynasty

  • In December, Richard M. Daley became Chicago’s longest-serving mayor, surpassing the late Richard J. Daley’s record of 7,916 days in office. Between father and son, this pair has governed the Windy City for 43 of the past 55 years. And now, there’s a Daley at the White House … Richard’s brother, William, is the president’s new chief of staff … a job that opened when Rahm Emanuel decided to run for mayor of Chicago. Here’s a look at three men and a Midwest political dynasty.

  • Richard J. Daley: Chicago’s 39th mayor

    Image: Richard Daley
    Hulton Archive  /  Getty Images
    Democratic Chicago mayor Richard J. Daley speaking from a podium at the 1976 Democratic Convention in New York City.

    He was one of the most powerful Democrats in the nation — a veritable kingmaker.  When John F. Kennedy considered running for president, his father, Joe, first sought Daley's blessing. Robert Kennedy said later during his own presidential campaign: "Daley is the ballgame." He ruled the city from his first term in 1955 until his death in 1976. Daley didn’t tolerate dissension, and discussions were notoriously terse. According to The Chicago Tribune, during City Council meetings, Alderman Leon Despres, a perennial Daley opponent, would often have his microphone shut off midsentence. In August 1968, Chicago hosted the Democratic National Convention, meant to showcase the city’s achievements to the world. But the mood was tense, heated by Vietnam protests and the recent assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy. Confrontations between protesters and police turned violent, with upsetting images broadcast on national television. When Sen. Abraham Ribicoff, in his convention speech nominating George McGovern for president, decried what he called the “Gestapo tactics in the streets of Chicago,” TV cameras caught Daley on the floor angrily gesturing and yelling at Ribicoff. Daley is credited with sparing the city from some of the economic woes that plagued other Midwest “Rust Belt” cities. Major construction during his terms in office resulted in O'Hare International Airport, the Sears Tower, the University of Illinois at Chicago campus, and numerous expressways.

  • Richard M. Daley: Chicago’s 45th mayor

    Image: Daley
    Brendan Smialowski  /  Getty Images
    Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley arrives at the White House for a state dinner on Jan. 19, 2011 in Washington.

    Daley, a former Illinois state senator and state's attorney, was first elected mayor in 1989. His mayoral style is decidedly different than his father’s. He created a coalition of supporters, including Latinos and African-Americans. "He saw that a white ethnic working class no longer dominated the city," said Jon Teaford, a Purdue University urban historian, in The Chicago Tribune. "So while not repudiating his father, he felt he didn't need his roots, politically." With a style modeled after corporate CEOs, Daley’s efforts included the revitalization of Millennium Park, ongoing improvements to the city’s public school system, and the rebuilding of a decrepit Soldier Field. In 2006, a senior aide and other three other city officials were convicted of rigging the hiring process to reward those who worked for supposedly independent political organizations close to the mayor. Daley loved to praise "thinking outside the box" when it came to governing and would frequently return from trips abroad with ideas. Inspired by European models, Daley recently declared, “My goal is to make Chicago the most bicycle-friendly city in the United States.”

  • William M. Daley, White House chief of staff

    Image: Daley
    Alex Wong  /  Getty Images
    Former U.S. Secretary of Commerce William Daley speaks during a taping of "Meet the Press" on Nov. 23, 2008 in Washington.

    Trading one Chicagoan for another, President Barack Obama selected Daley to be the next White House chief of staff as Rahm Emanuel leaves to throw his hat into the Windy City mayoral ring. “Needless to say, Bill also has a smidgen of awareness of how our system of government and politics works. You might say it is a genetic trait," Obama said, referencing the family’s political legacy. Daley helped craft successful campaigns to elect President Bill Clinton and was named commerce secretary in 1997. Daley was most recently Midwest chairman of JPMorgan Chase & Co. A Democratic centrist, Daley now serves as a liaison to business in a White House that has faced criticism from some as being anti-business. While Daley is soft-spoken, "he has all the toughness of the Daley family, and then some," said William Galston, a longtime Daley associate and now with the Brookings Institution, a liberal-leaning think tank.


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