The shock of Chicago Mayor Richard Daley's announcement Tuesday that he will not seek another term next year has, for the most part, faded. Now it's time to sort out the field of candidates who are hoping to succeed him.
Nobody was going to beat Daley, Chicago's "Mayor For Life," had he decided to run again. Nobody was going to come close. Yes, there are problems in the Windy City. There is corruption, there is rampant patronage, there is an out-of-control budget. But since taking the office in a special 1989 contest, Daley has won re-election with 71 percent of the vote in 1991 (against now Rep. Danny Davis), 61 percent in '95 (against now Sen. Roland Burris), 73 percent in '99 (against Rep. Bobby Rush), 79 percent in '03, and 71 percent in '07.
Note that the three challengers I mentioned here are African-American. There has long been the sense that were Daley ever to leave, there would be a serious effort by the black community to get a strong black candidate in the race.
But talk to anyone in Chicago about the next mayor, and the focus is on two white candidates: Rahm Emanuel, the former Chicago congressman and currently the White House chief of staff, and Tom Dart, the Cook County sheriff.
Emanuel, of course, is a larger-than-life figure in the Obama administration, who has attracted attention, good and bad, for his style and personality. Back in April, he said on the "Charlie Rose" show that his dream job would be mayor:
I hope Mayor Daley seeks reelection. I will work and support him if he seeks reelection. But if Mayor Daley doesn't, one day I would like to run for mayor of the City of Chicago. That's always been an aspiration of mine even when I was in the House of Representatives.
With Daley now stepping aside, it looks likely that Emanuel will attempt to fulfill his aspiration. This morning, President Obama gushed about his chief of staff on ABC:
I think he would be an excellent mayor. He is an excellent chief of staff. ... I think right now, as long as he is in the White House, he is critically focused on making sure that we're creating jobs for families around the country and rebuilding our economy. ... But I think he would be a terrific mayor.
But there are problems, as the New York Times' Jeff Zeleny described:
In Chicago, a vast patchwork of neighborhoods, every mayoral candidate needs a natural constituency. Several Democratic officials in the city said they were uncertain where Mr. Emanuel’s base of support would come from, beyond his former Congressional district on the city’s Northwest Side.
Many Jewish voters in Chicago, like elsewhere in the country, are furious at Mr. Emanuel over the Obama administration’s policies toward Israel. Several liberal groups inside the Democratic Party, from labor unions to other progressive organizations, blame Mr. Emanuel for playing a role in what they believe as failing to fully capitalize on the party’s majority by not pursuing more liberal policies.
By all likelihood, Emanuel will leave the administration shortly after the midterm elections to run. The filing deadline for the Feb. 2011 mayoral election is November 22.
Dart, the sheriff, is seen by many as a reform-type candidate who might contrast well with Emanuel. He filed the lawsuit against Craigslist and its adult services ads. But that's just the beginning.
The Chicago Tribune says in a subheader that it is "easier to count those who aren't running than those who are." Rep. Bobby Rush said it was "critical" to get a black candidate "who would work for the black community's interests." But Alderman Walter Burnett, who heads the city council's black caucus, said, "I don't know if it's as important that it's an African-American candidate as it is about a candidate that is going to be fair to the African-American community."
In any event, Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. has not ruled out a race, nor has his wife, Alderman Sandi Jackson. But Congressman Jackson still suffers from lingering questions over his role, whatever it was, in the Blagojevich-inspired calculations for the Obama Senate seat. Another congressman who has indicated interest in the past is Luis Gutierrez. And there's also Danny Davis, who said this week he is not prepared to rule himself in or out just yet.
Other potential candidates: City Clerk Miguel del Valle, lame duck state Comptroller Dan Hynes (who lost a bitter gubernatorial primary last February), outgoing Cook County Assessor James Houlihan, Cook County Clerk David Orr, as well as a slew of aldermen.