Rahm Emanuel, Chicago's Next Mayor (Only Suspense: Will He Need A Runoff?)

Rahm Emanuel, campaigning for mayor, greets Chicago commuters early this morning.  Polls close at 7 pm Central. i i

Rahm Emanuel, campaigning for mayor, greets Chicago commuters early this morning. Polls close at 7 pm Central. Scott Olson/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Scott Olson/Getty Images
Rahm Emanuel, campaigning for mayor, greets Chicago commuters early this morning.  Polls close at 7 pm Central.

Rahm Emanuel, campaigning for mayor, greets Chicago commuters early this morning. Polls close at 7 pm Central.

Scott Olson/Getty Images

The issue, as everyone has said by now, is not if, but when.

Rahm Emanuel will, by all accounts, be the next mayor of Chicago. It will either happen today, should he surpass 50 percent of the vote, or on April 5, when he and the second-place finisher will advance to a runoff. But there is no uncertainty of who will succeed retiring Mayor Richard M. Daley, who is leaving office after a record tenure.

It wasn't always this way.

Once upon a time, way way back in 2010, the guess was that Emanuel would have a fight on his hands. No way he would just waltz into the mayor's office. Progressives, claiming he sold them out on issues like the economy and health care during his time in the Obama White House, promised they wouldn't sit by and allow him to take the mayoralty without a struggle. Their great hope of a candidate was Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart. But it didn't happen, and Dart decided not to run.

Then there was a determined effort by the African American community to rally behind a single candidate. That person turned out to be former U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley Braun, who suffers from no shortage of baggage herself and who has not been an inspirational campaigner. For years it was said that once Daley was gone, black political strength would return, back to the days when Harold Washington was mayor. That didn't happen either. Polls show Emanuel getting more black votes than any other candidate. (The tacit support of President Obama didn't hurt.)

Then came the issue of Emanuel's residency. As the White House chief of staff, did he violate the residency law that stated a person must live in the city for a year if he hopes to become mayor? He did not, ruled the courts.

The remaining candidates, led by Braun, former Daley chief of staff Gery Chico and City Clerk Miguel del Valle, did everything they could to cast doubt on Emanuel's candidacy. But nothing stuck. Emanuel, backed by a $13 million war chest, never looked back.

What may be the real story here is how Emanuel dealt with all the potential adversity. His reputation — as a key staffer to President Clinton, his seven years in Congress and then during his time in the Obama White House — has always been that of a bully, a smart but arrogant strategist totally lacking in people skills. But as a candidate for mayor, he has been indefatigable, and even human. He never complained, never lost his temper, never went after his opponents. Even at his lowest points — when residents eagerly lined up to testify about his qualifications, or lack of them, or when an Appellate Court panel ruled him off the ballot — he was always philosophical about what was going on, always cautiously optimistic without resorting to whining. For those whose only knowledge of him came from anecdotes or third-party stories, Rahm Emanuel proved himself to be a completely disciplined candidate.

That's not to say the doubters have gone away. The Rev. Jesse Jackson and Rep. Bobby Rush remain strong opponents (and continue to back Braun). Rep. Luis Gutierrez, a leading immigration activist, blames Emanuel's pushing on NAFTA during his Clinton White House days for costing Illinois thousands of jobs (he's backing Chico).

Oh, by the way, Chicago is facing serious problems, most notably a nagging budget deficit, systematic patronage and corruption, failing public schools, a pension shortfall, racial woes and growing gang violence. The Weekly Standard's Joseph Epstein — who describes Daley as having been, "on balance, a good mayor" — writes that Hizzoner "will not leave office covered with glory but rather, one suspects, with the feeling that he is escaping just in time."

Now it will be Emanuel's responsibility.

P.S. This headline on MSNBC's Web site today briefly threw me for a loop: "Chicago Votes Today and Gaddafi Makes Public Appearance." For a second I thought the Libyan leader was making an endorsement in the Windy City.

ELECTION UPDATE (10:15 p.m. ET): Emanuel won the election outright, getting about 55 percent of the vote.

Chicago mayors of the past half century:

Daley, Bilandic, Byrne buttons
Washington, Sawyer, Daley buttons

(1) Richard J. Daley, the chairman of the Cook County Democratic Party, defeated incumbent Martin Kennelly in the 1955 Democratic primary and served as mayor until his death in December 1976; (2) Mike Bilandic, the president pro tem of the city council, was selected to replace Daley in 1977 and won the special election that year; (3) Jane Byrne unseated Bilandic in the 1979 primary; (4) Rep. Harold Washington beat both Mayor Byrne and Richie Daley in the 1983 primary and went on to become the city's first black mayor; (5) Alderman Eugene Sawyer was picked by the city council to serve as mayor following Washington's death in 1987; (6) Richard M. Daley, son of the late mayor, beat Sawyer in the 1989 primary and has served ever since. hide caption

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From the Archives: "Rahm: Resident Maybe, Mayor Likely" (Political Junkie, Jan. 28, 2011); "Is Rahm-Bo a No Go in Chicago?" (Jan. 25, 2001); "Emanuel Leaving White House But Chicago Mayor Run No Cakewalk" (Sept. 30, 2010); "Rahm Likely to Run in Chicago But Could Face a Crowded Field" (Sept. 9, 2010); "Daley Won't Run Again" (Sept. 7, 2010); "Chicago's Long Running Daley Show" (Feb. 21, 2007).

Too Thune? Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), a Republican Party favorite ever since he knocked off Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle in 2004, announced on his Facebook page today that he will not run for president in 2012:

During this period of fiscal crisis and economic uncertainty there is a fight for the future direction of America. There is a battle to be waged over what kind of country we are going to leave our children and grandchildren and that battle is happening now in Washington, not two years from now. So at this time, I feel that I am best positioned to fight for America's future here in the trenches of the United States Senate.

And One More Senate Retiree. Sen. Jeff Bingaman, a New Mexico Democrat first elected in 1982, announced Friday he will not seek a sixth term next year. He joins fellow Senate retirees Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), Jim Webb (D-Va.), Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) and Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas). There are said to be four or five people in the state who may not run for the seat.

Podcast. Last week's episode of our "It's All Politics" podcast focused on the very different ways the two parties see the budget. Plus: more on Ron Paul, 2012 White House musings, the open Senate contests in Arizona and Virginia, and a last look at the Chicago mayoral race. It was produced by Evie Stone and edited by Cathy Shaw, with Ron Elving and I yakking away. You can listen to it here:

Back issues department. Thursday's Junkie column focused on the suddenly open Arizona Senate race and the desire by many Democrats to run Gabby Giffords for the seat. You can read that column here. And in last Tuesday's column, the focus was on Ron Paul and his propensity for winning presidential straw polls. You can read that one here.

ScuttleButton Puzzle Answer. ScuttleButton, as many loyal Americans know, is my weekly puzzle in which I put forward a vertical display of buttons and your job is to take one word (or concept) per button, add 'em up, and, hopefully, you will arrive at a famous name or expression. Here are the buttons used in Thursday's ScuttleButton contest (I was at member station WFIU in Bloomington, Ind., on Friday; hence, the puzzle came out a day early):

It's A Boy / Michael Jeffrey Rudin / March 23, 1990 — Is it possible that my son is turning 21 next month? How is that possible??

Ian Dury & Blockheads / Do It Yourself — 1979 button from the British punk band. Hard to say what my favorite Dury song is; it's either "Sex & Drugs & Rock 'n' Roll" (the solution of a previous ScuttleButton puzzle) or "Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick." Now you know.

Howard Dean for DNC Chair — The former Vermont governor and 2004 presidential hopeful was elected chairman of the Democratic National Committee in February 2005.

And so, when you add Son + Ian + Chair, you might end up with ...

Sonny and Cher. The 1960s pop music married duo best known for songs such as "I Got You Babe" and "The Beat Goes On."

This was, as predicted, a tough one to solve; I think I received fewer responses than any other puzzle in the years I've been doing this. But not everyone was flummoxed ... especially not this week's (randomly selected) winner, Deirdre Carroll of Seattle, Wash.

Wanna be on my weekly mailing list? Sign up at politicaljunkie@npr.org.

Wanna follow my rantings on Twitter? Go to http://twitter.com/kenrudin.

Join the McCain Crusade button

This Day In Campaign History: The supposedly easy path to the Republican presidential nomination by Texas Gov. George W. Bush hits a speed bump, two in fact, as Sen. John McCain wins the GOP primaries in Arizona, his home state, and Michigan. His victory in Michigan, which allows independents to vote in the Republican contest and where he won 70 of the state's 83 counties, is touted as a possible indication of his pull with moderates and centrists for the November general election. The wins come on the heels of McCain's landslide in New Hampshire on Feb. 1; Bush responded with a win in South Carolina (Feb. 22, 2000). But subsequent Bush victories will lead to McCain suspending his campaign on March 9.

Got a question? Ask Ken Rudin: politicaljunkie@npr.org

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