A mayor is elected, as a dozen council races head for runoffs

February 23, 2011

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(AP/Charles Rex Arbogast)

Chicago has a mayor-elect. Rahm Emanuel won 55-percent of the vote in Tuesday's election, enough to avoid a runoff. That means that in May, Emanuel will succeed his one-time boss, longtime Mayor Richard M. Daley.

The ex-White House chief of staff and congressman will take office May 16th. And from the looks of things, the new mayor may be dealing with a large group of new aldermen.

Emanuel stepped to the stage last night, surrounded by his family and supporters at the surprisingly early hour of 9 o'clock - just two hours after the polls closed.

EMANUEL: Thank you, Chicago, for this humbling victory.

Humbling, perhaps, but also decisive. And Emanuel couldn't help but make a joke about the residency fight that nearly got him booted from the race just a few weeks earlier.

EMANUEL: All I can say, you sure know how to make a guy feel at home.

Since Emanuel's return to Chicago in October, he's run an orderly, professional campaign that at times seemed more White House than City Hall.

Not counting money from his congressional campaign fund, Emanuel raised in excess of $12 million. Millions of that came from out of state, and it funded aggressive TV ads that attempted to turn a bulldog into a golden retriever, a leader with just enough bite to get things done.

And it worked. He won the most votes in 40 out of 50 wards.

With the win, Emanuel inherits a budget expected to be well out of balance, a monster pension debt, and school and public housing systems in the midst of enormous, and controversial, transitions.

EMANUEL: The real work of building a better future begins tonight. And I intend to enlist every living one of you. Every one of you, in our city.

Including his now-former opponents.

EMANUEL: I look forward to drawing on their insights, their energy, their experiences, in the years to come and in days to come.

CHICO: Whatever he needs me to do, I'm a phone call away. Because this is our city. And we all love our city. And we've elected a mayor tonight. We've elected a mayor tonight.

Gery Chico emerged in the final weeks of the campaign as the clear number-two in this race. A former chief of staff to Mayor Daley, and Daley-appointed head of the school, park district and city college boards. That means he spent the campaign balancing his experience and accomplishments in the old administration, with promises that the city under his watch would do better.

In the end, Chico won close to a quarter of all votes, and 10 wards - some with large Latino populations. Chico last night made a reference to this soft spot in Emanuel's results, along with the mayor-elect's troubles with organized labor. His campaign, Chico said, started building a coalition...

CHICO: ...with ethnic groups, with the Latino community, the African American community, labor, working men and women. And Rahm will obviously need to continue that work to take our city where we want it to go.

A high-profile backer of Chico's, U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez, said he was happy with Chico's results. But he said what allowed Emanuel to climb above 50-percent was that another candidate won so few votes.

BRAUN: We didn't make it, in spite of all the prayers and in spite of all the work, and in spite of all the effort, it didn't happen for us.

Carol Moseley Braun's candidacy was buoyed in December, when two other prominent African Americans - Congressman Danny Davis and state Senator James Meeks - dropped out of the race and endorsed her. But her candidacy never caught on, due in part to some high profile flubs. And the campaign reported zero large donations in the final weeks. Her money and her momentum had dried up.

BRAUN: I said to my little niece Claire maybe you'll be the first woman elected mayor of the city of Chicago.

Chicago has had a woman as mayor: Jane Byrne was elected more than 30 years ago. Braun herself is no stranger to history. In 1992, she was the first - and still only - black woman elected to the U.S. Senate. But Tuesday, Braun failed to win a single Chicago ward, and was kept to the single digits in total percentage.

Same goes for another top mayoral contender, Miguel del Valle, who during his campaign couldn't multiply the kind of enthusiasm he shared Tuesday night with his supporters.

DEL VALLE: Look around you. Look behind you. Look to the left. Look to the right. Look in front of you. This is Chicago. This is the future of the city of Chicago.

Del Valle's speech sounded less like a concession and more like a call to arms.

DEL VALLE: My worst enemy was not my political opponents, but rather time. We'll have time. We're going to have time to build. We are going to build. We are going to build a progressive agenda in this city.

Del Valle's term as city clerk runs out in May. Voters Tuesday picked state Representative Susana Mendoza to replace him.

They also weighed-in on 43 contested city council races. In at least 14 of them, no candidate won a majority, so there will be runoff elections. That includes 10 sitting aldermen fighting for their jobs, leaving the potential for even bigger change than expected in the council. That body could support - or stifle -  the plans of its new mayor.

EMANUEL: While not all the contests are settled, I want to reach out tonight to the members of the next city council. We have a chance for a new partnership that will serve our city and its taxpayers well.

That may have been the only line in Emanuel's speech aimed directly at aldermen, and none of them were there to hear it. After the mayor-elect left, and the room half-cleared, one did show up:

TUNNEY: Well, the fact is I didn't get here on time.

That's 44th Ward Alderman Tom Tunney from the North Side's Lakeview neighborhood. He endorsed Emanuel, and now wants and expects him to get involved in the remaining city council races - both with endorsements and campaign cash.

TUNNEY: Any new mayor is going to have to build relationships. And when Rich Daley became mayor in 1989, he'd build relationships...And that's why he was so successful.

Daley may be retiring, but he wasn't entirely missing from the scene Tuesday night. At his victory party, Emanuel said he'd received a phone call from Daley.

EMANUEL: Rich Daley is the only mayor a whole generation of Chicagoans has known. And let's be honest: It's an impossible act to follow.

Emanuel once worked for Daley - raising campaign donations for Daley's first mayoral win, in 1989. Tuesday night, Emanuel heaped on the praise.

EMANUEL: Nobody has ever loved Chicago more or served it with greater passion or commitment. This city bears his imprint, and he has earned a special place in our hearts and our history.

Those were perhaps the most explicitly kind words any mayoral candidate has said about Daley since this election began. In fact, the mayor was almost never mentioned by the candidates, even as they complained about how the city is run.

His was the name that was rarely spoken. That is, until last night, after the voters had their say, and the mayor-elect got a phone call from the mayor.