Mayor Race Wide Open As Daley Steps Aside

Chicago, IL–(ENEWSPF)– Suddenly, the race for Chicago mayor is on.

Mayor Richard M. Daley has thrown the competition for the city’s top job wide open by announcing he won’t run for a seventh term, ending 21 years of token opposition and prompting speculation about who’s next in line to lead the nation’s third largest city.

Political observers expect a crowded field, as Democrats seize the opportunity after years of biding their time.

White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, a native Chicagoan, former congressman and one-time Daley aide already has said he’d like the job someday.

Several aldermen are said to be mulling their chances. And Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart is considered a strong contender.

Then there are U.S. Reps. Jesse Jackson Jr. — who has considered face-offs with Daley in the past but then didn’t run — and Luis Guitierrez, who could draw support from the city’s substantial Hispanic population.

Political analyst Don Rose said Dart and Emanuel probably stand the best chance, though the field may include “a serious African American.”

“It’s all speculation at this moment, but I … consider Dart to be the hottest political property in town, other than Lisa Madigan,” the Illinois attorney general and daughter of powerful Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, Rose said in a written statement. “If Emanuel quits his job and comes back here to run, he will have his hands full.”

Political analysts agreed Daley may have faced opposition for re-election, but likely would have won. He was first elected mayor in 1989, following in the footsteps of his father, Richard J. Daley, who died of a heart attack in 1976 at age 74 during his 21st year in office.

“I’ve always believed that every person, especially public officials, must understand when it’s time to move on,” Daley said during a Tuesday news conference where he was flanked by his wife, Maggie, who has been battling cancer for years, and their children. “For me, that time is now.”

Emanuel praised Daley, a Democrat, but refused to say if he would consider a run in February.

“While Mayor Daley surprised me today with his decision to not run for re-election, I have never been surprised by his leadership, dedication and tireless work on behalf of the city and the people of Chicago,” Emanuel said in a Tuesday statement.

In April, though, Emanuel said during an interview on Charlie Rose’s PBS talk show that it was “no secret” he wanted to run for mayor of Chicago someday. At the time, Emanuel called Daley “a dear friend” and said he’d done “a fabulous job.”

Dart has made a name for himself in recent years, inside and outside Chicago, by suing Craigslist to try to force the Internet site to remove adult services ads, refusing to evict renters from homes in foreclosure and investigating a burial scandal at a historic black cemetery.

Dart spokesman Steve Patterson said the sheriff is focused on winning re-election in November, but wouldn’t rule out a run for mayor.

“It’s a position he’s always been interested in, but … this morning that possibility didn’t exist,” Patterson said.

Jackson Jr. said Tuesday only a few candidates could mount a serious bid for mayor, but would not say if he would run. He is expected to win re-election to his congressional seat this fall, but has seen his reputation tarnished after revelations that supporters allegedly offered to raise money for former Gov. Rod Blagojevich in exchange for an appointment to President Barack Obama’s former Senate seat. Jackson was not charged in the case and denies wrongdoing.

Chicago Alderman Bob Fioretti said he will decide within 10 days whether he’s running for mayor.

Prospective candidates must file for the February election in November. Daley hasn’t said whether he will endorse anyone, although the support of the political machine he leads could tip the race in the direction of anyone he chooses. He won re-election four years ago with 71 percent of the vote over two little-known challengers.

When Emanuel said he was interested, Daley called him a friend but said: “I think there are many people out there who would be great mayors.”

The next mayor inherits a city ruled by a Daley for all but 13 of the last 55 years.

The fourth of seven children and the oldest son of Richard J. and Eleanor “Sis” Daley, Richard M. Daley grew up with politics a part of family life. A brother, William Daley, would become U.S. commerce secretary under President Bill Clinton. Another brother, John Daley, is a Cook County commissioner. But neither has ever publicly expressed interest in the City Hall job, and no one in the family appeared poised to run next year.

Daley is credited with saving a foundering public school system, beautifying downtown and tearing down the public housing high rises that helped give Chicago its well deserved reputation as one of the nation’s most segregated cities. He’s also faced a growing challenges.

Daley’s wife’s health has deteriorated in recent months. And the mayor’s recent tenure has been marked by high-profile setbacks, from the city’s unsuccessful bid to bring the 2016 Olympic Games to Chicago to the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of the city’s handgun ban. Like other mayors, Daley watched as the national recession left his city swimming in red ink.

His administration also has been dogged by whispers of corruption, including the 2006 felony conviction of a top aide in connection with illegal hiring practices at City Hall and a department head’s conviction this year for illegally handing out city jobs to political campaign workers.

Critics grumbled that in some ways Daley’s Chicago was run much as it had been under his father, the boss of Chicago’s Democratic machine for two decades. He nevertheless remained popular, winning elections by overwhelming margins.

“I’m not surprised, I’m shocked,” Paul Green, a Roosevelt University political scientist, said of Daley’s decision not to run again. “I just wrote an article … about how tough he would be to beat.”

(This version corrects that Don Rose is not affiliated with the University of Illinois.)