Rahm Emanuel becomes Chicago's 46th mayor

Calls for shared sacrifice to tackle city's challenges

May 16, 2011

(Getty/Frank Polich)
(Photo/Bill Healy)
(Photo/Bill Healy)
Local and national dignitaries, including Vice President Joe Biden, watch as Rahm Emanuel delivers his inaugural address

Declaring that Chicago is ready for change, Rahm Emanuel took the oath of office Monday, becoming the 46th mayor in Chicago's history and the first Jewish resident to occupy the office.

Nearly all of Chicago's top elected officials were on hand for the occasion, as were Vice President Joe Biden and several U.S. cabinet secretaries.  The event also featured the swearing in of Chicago's new City Council, City Clerk Susana Mendoza and Treasurer Stephanie Neely.

During his inaugural address, Emanuel praised outgoing mayor Richard M. Daley and his wife, Maggie, for their lifetime of service, but declared that serious challenges lie ahead.

"We must face the truth," he said. "It is time to take on the challenges that threaten the very future of our city: the quality of our schools, the safety of our streets, the cost and effectiveness of city government, and the urgent need to create and keep the jobs of the future right here in Chicago."

Emanuel placed schools atop his list of priorities and vowed to push for quick, effective change - even poking fun at his own high-strung reputation in the process.

"As some have noted, including my wife, I am not a patient man," he joked. "When it comes to improving our schools, I will not be a patient mayor."

As Emanuel went on to highlight challenges in reducing crime and the city's mounting financial difficulties, he vowed to work together with all of the city's many constituents.  But he also issued a challenge.

"So today, I ask each of you - those who live here, and those who work here; business and labor: Let us share the necessary sacrifices fairly and justly," said Emanuel.

The journey to today

The inauguration ceremonies took place in the Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park, a park which became one of the signature achievements of his predecessor, the retiring mayor Richard M. Daley.

Emanuel's inauguration capped a whirlwind - and largely unexpected turn of events - that began with an appearance Emanuel made on PBS' Charlie Rose in April of last year during which the then-White House chief of staff publicly revealed his interest in becoming mayor of Chicago one day.

The comment made national news and stirred the political dust in the Windy City, but the speculation soon dissipated as most seasoned political observers expected then-Mayor Richard M. Daley to seek a seventh term in office.  Little did most people know that Daley would stun the political world in September 2010 by announcing his current term would be his last.

Daley's decision not to seek re-election set off a scramble to fill the office he came to occupy for 22 years and created a political vacuum which Emanuel raced to fill.  Within weeks, he'd stepped down as White House Chief of Staff and was given a presidential send-off that was carried live on local and national television outlets.

While the list of names of potential mayoral candidates stretched into the dozens, Emanuel's name was always on the short list of top contenders given his political and fundraising skills.  In the end, just six candidates remained on the ballot, though it was unclear for weeks whether Emanuel would be one of them.

During much of the fall, Emanuel fended off a series of legal battles that focused on whether he was eligible to run for mayor.  At issue was whether he met the minimum one-year residency requirement to be allowed on the ballot.  The battle became a centerpiece of the election campaign until the Illinois Supreme Court ultimately ruled in his favor, just a few weeks before  the February municipal elections.  

On Election Day, Emanuel won a sweeping victory, winning a majority of votes cast and avoiding a run-off, reflecting strength in all corners of the city. 

A return to elected office

The election not only marked a changing of the guard for Chicago, but it also marked a return to elected public office for Emanuel.   Previously, he served for three terms in the U.S. House of Representatives representing the legendary 5th congressional district on the city's north side. While in office, he earned a national reputation as a key architect of the Democrats successful strategy to regain control of Congress in 2006.  Emanuel then left Congress in 2009 to serve as Chief of Staff to newly-elected President Barack Obama.

The move wasn't the first time Emanuel left the Chicago area to serve a president.  He worked as fundraiser and key advisor to Democrat Bill Clinton during Clinton's 1992 campaign for the presidency and for most of his two terms in office thereafter.  It was his work in the Clinton administration on such projects as the passage of the NAFTA treaty that earned him a reputation as a highly effective and fearsome political operator. 

But Emanuel's beginnings in politics can be traced back to the man he succeeds as mayor, Richard M. Daley.   He worked as a fundraiser for Daley, helping him win election to office in 1989.  That experience and those connections helped pave the way for his career since.

"I have big shoes to fill," Emanuel said Monday. "Nobody ever loved Chicago more or served it better than Richard Daley."