Obama's Right-Hand Man Wins Chicago Mayoral Race

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Former Congressman and White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel is the next mayor of Chicago. Emmanuel beat five other mayoral candidates to win yesterday's election with just more than 55 percent of the vote. He succeeds longtime Mayor Richard M. Daley. The drama-filled race was the first in 22 years that did not include a member of the Daley family dynasty. Host Michel Martin speaks with Chicago Sun-Times columnist Mary Mitchell about the Emanuel's victory.


I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

An Associated Press investigation into the Gulf oil spill claims process found it, quote, "beset by red tape and delay," unquote, with an administrator whose ties to oil giant BP have, quote, "raised questions about his independence," unquote. We will talk with that administrator, Kenneth Feinberg, in just a few minutes.

But first, to politics in the Windy City. Chicago residents yesterday elected former White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel to be their new mayor.

Mayor-elect RAHM EMANUEL (Democrat, Chicago): Thank you, Chicago, for this humbling victory. All I can say: You sure know how to make a guy feel at home.

(Soundbite of cheering)

MARTIN: It was a drama-filled race to succeed long-time Mayor Richard Daley. Six candidates competed for the city's top job, including former United States senator Carol Moseley Braun and former Daley staffer Gery Chico. Voter turnout was 41 percent, nearly 10 points higher than the last mayoral vote back in 2007.

Joining us to talk more about the race is Mary Mitchell. She's an editorial board member and columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times. And she's with us by phone from Chicago. Mary, thanks so much for joining us once again.

Ms. MARY MITCHELL (Columnist, Chicago Sun Times): Thank you, Michel, for the invitation.

MARTIN: And I want to mention that when Rahm Emanuel in the quote we just heard said you sure know how to make a guy feel at home, that was a reference to the fact that his residency was challenged.

Ms. MITCHELL: Right. And it really dominated the conversation about the mayor's race for months leading up to the election.

MARTIN: But it clearly didn't hurt him.

Ms. MITCHELL: Oh, no, no, no. I think it - actually, I think it helped him very much, because, number one, he was victorious, but number two, it sort of made people feel sorry for him. Why are you trying to kick this guy off the ballot? Give him a chance. Give him a chance to run. And it - I think it gave him a lot of momentum at a time when the other candidates were fighting for - fighting to find ways to get their message out.

MARTIN: And it's worth noting, though, that there were - this is a diverse slate of candidates, a candidate of Latino heritage, African-American candidate - in fact, sort of a history-making candidate, Carol Moseley Braun, the first African-American woman to be elected to the United States Senate. They did not do well at all. In fact, Rahm won - Rahm Emanuel won all the predominantly black wards and his next closest competitor, Gery Chico, only got 24 percent of the vote. So why do you think that they didn't make a more compelling showing?

Ms. MITCHELL: Well, here's what was shocking, absolutely stunning for most of us, is that Rahm Emanuel won every black ward at the same time that black politicians, black aldermen, activists and business people were saying that they were supporting Carol Moseley Braun, the African-American quote-unquote "consensus candidate." That was just shocking because you cannot even with money go into those wards unless you have organization, unless you have backing from the aldermen and the committee men in those wards.

So this either means that they were - people were saying that they were supporting Carol Moseley Braun publicly and were supporting Rahm Emanuel, or there is really - there has really been a sea change in politics in Chicago.

MARTIN: What do you think it is? Some people would argue it's also the Obama factor, that President Obama remains very popular with African-American voters and that he had coattails. What do you think?

Ms. MITCHELL: Well, his endorsement - not endorsement, but his commercial praising Rahm Emanuel, I think that was very powerful. That was - he has great influence still within the Chicago area. Also, I just think Carol Moseley Braun ran a campaign, not a very good campaign, and that he alienated a lot of black voters when she made disparaging remarks about one of her opponents.

MARTIN: So, Mary, are you going to have to rethink some of your kind of verities about Chicago politics after this?

Ms. MITCHELL: Oh, definitely. There has been - well, you know, we've seen this before. Mayor Daley was able to get 80 percent of the black vote the last time he ran. But he inched his way up towards those numbers. This is stunning in that Rahm Emanuel was able to do it the very first time. And I think it shows that African-American voters in this city are fed up and tired of being told who to vote for...

MARTIN: Alright...

Ms. MITCHELL: ...by their alderman.

MARTIN: Mary Mitchell is an editorial board member and columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times. She was kind enough to join us by phone from Chicago. We'll link to her latest column - by visiting our website, just go to NPR.org, click on Programs, then on TELL ME MORE.

Mary, thanks so much for joining us.

Ms. MITCHELL: Thank you.

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