Former aide to Barack Obama overwhelms five rivals to take the helm of the third-largest US city
- Paul Harris in New York
- guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 23 February 2011 08.18 GMT
With 88% of precincts finished counting in America’s third largest city, Emanuel had a commanding leading of 55%; a long way ahead of his nearest rival, the former Chicago schools president Gery Chico, on 24%.
Emanuel needed to win the race by 50% or more to avoid a run-off election and capture City Hall at his first try. He has done that easily despite the election for the mayor’s office once being seen as the most competitive in a generation.
“Thank you Chicago for this humbling victory,” a smiling Emanuel told supporters at his victory rally in the city. “You sure know how to make a guy feel at home.
“It is easy to find differences but we can never allow them to become divisions. Tonight we are moving forward in the only way we truly can. Together. As one city with one future.
“It’s you. It’s the hard-working, plain-speaking folks who share a love for their city and a determination to keep it strong. I share that love and I am determined with your help to meet our challenges head on and to make a great city even greater.”
Chicago’s political machinery is notorious within American politics and this last race was the first in 64 years not to feature an incumbent candidate. Since 1989 the spot was held by Emanuel’s predecessor Richard M Daley, who never faced a serious challenge and was known as King Richard.
But Emanuel’s seeming outsider status wasn’t borne out by his well-funded campaign, with his war chest dwarfing those of his rivals.
It showed the benefits of Emanuel’s time as the president’s chief of staff in Washington where he gained national prominence on the back of an image as a tough-talking and foul-mouthed operative who rarely took prisoners.
That reputation was hardly a disadvantage in Chicago where rough and tumble politics are the norm. The main threat to Emanuel’s victory during the campaign came not from any candidate at the ballot box but from a protracted legal fight aimed at proving he did not have the right residency qualifications for the race.
Emanuel eventually triumphed in court but only after an appeal.
The former Congressman from the city and native Chicagoan has often said that the chance to become mayor was a “dream job” and the only reason he would leave the White House. But he is now faced with the realities of wielding civic power in one of America’s biggest cities.
Across America local governments are facing deep budget cuts in the wake of the Great Recession. Chicago is no exception. City finances are stretched and ways of raising fresh revenue are being squeezed. There is a projected shortfall in the city budget of some £1bn and an unemployment rate of almost 9%. Chicago’s police force is stretched and short of funds and there is a serious crime problem, especially in the city’s traditionally black southside neighbourhoods.