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.
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.
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.