Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff, is all but certain to run for mayor of Chicago and could be exiting the White House as soon as Friday. White House Senior Adviser Peter Rouse is likely to be tapped as interim chief of staff, but no final decisions have been made.
Asked if he would endorse Emanuel, the president said, "I'm not going to be making decisions about how I'm going to approach it."
While the mayoral primary is not until Feb. 22, the timetable to launch a serious bid needs to begin much sooner, and Emanuel has become increasingly aware of the impending time crunch. Emanuel has to build a political organization from scratch. The first task: A candidate needs 12,500 valid signatures on nominating petitions from registered voters to get on the ballot. The petitions are due Nov. 22. Other contenders have been circulating petitions for weeks as at least a dozen mayoral campaigns are being launched. Voters may not sign more than one nominating petition. In Chicago, a routine political move is to challenge the validity of signatures on petitions. That's how a young Barack Obama got his start in elected politics. When he ran for state senator, Obama's allies scrubbed the petitions of his biggest competitor, found problems and got state Sen. Alice Palmer (D-Chicago) thrown off the ballot.
Since Daley said he would not run again, Emanuel has yet to speak in public or on the record about his mayoral ambitions. But he commissioned a poll in mid-September -- he used Stanley Greenberg, his longtime pollste
r -- to test his positives, his career in the House, his work in the Obama White House-, and his negatives. According to a woman interviewed by the Chicago Sun-Times who had been polled, there was a question about Emanuel's past friendship with former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, convicted by a federal jury in August of lying to the FBI. The jury deadlocked on 23 other charges and a retrial is tentatively scheduled to begin in January -- during the mayoral campaign. Blagojevich had subpoenaed Emanuel to be a defense witness in his first trial.
Emanuel has not been back to Chicago since Daley's announcement. He's been busy working the phones calling potential supporters in the city. He's also had meetings in Washington about running for mayor with three members of Congress from Chicago: Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., Danny K. Davis and Mike Quigley, who was elected to the House seat Emanuel vacated when he became chief of staff.
Last Tuesday night in Washington (Sept. 21) Emanuel met with Davis, who is also mulling a mayoral bid and already has petitions out. They got together at the Caucus Room, a restaurant near the White House.
"We drank water so our minds could be as clear as possible," Davis told the Chicago Sun-Times
. "We had a conversation about the possibility of both of us running for mayor."
Davis said the two discussed how to avoid a divisive contest; their campaigns should "not to be designed to fracture the city, not to polarize the city but to have it be as harmonious as it could be."
On Wednesday afternoon, Emanuel met Quigley -- who is also considering a mayoral bid -- at the rooftop bar at the W Hotel. Quigley drank lemonade. Emanuel downed iced tea.
If Emanuel jumps into the mayoral contest, as expected, he will have a running start with a $1.2 million war chest -- but competitors are expected to be numerous and aggressive. While Emanuel, a former House member from Chicago, has a money advantage, he has political and personal hurdles to clear:
- Emanuel has not lived in the city for two years. Last year, he moved his family to Northwest Washington; his North Side Chicago residence has been rented and he will need to find a place to live in the city.
- Emanuel does not have a strong electoral base.
- Emanuel has frayed relations with unions and Chicago is a union town.
- Emanuel first won election to his House seat with the help of Mayor Daley's patronage army -- which no longer exists.
- As famous as Emanuel is in Washington, many city ward power brokers -- who will have sway in a mayoral contest -- barely know him.
- Emanuel goes into the contest with few political chits. He has never been a local political force -- helping aldermen and state candidates win elections. No one really owes him anything. Emanuel has mainly played national politics since he joined Bill Clinton's presidential campaign in 1992. Emanuel has always been a staunch Daley loyalist -- one of his first political jobs was as a fundraiser for the mayor -- but several people running have also been close to Daley and so far, it looks like Daley is not going to try to grease the way for a successor.
Daley's decision not to seek a seventh term is creating a political free-for-all; the Feb. 22 primary is nonpartisan. If no contender gets more than 50 percent, there will be a run-off on April 5. The political math calls for a strategy to build a coalition to get to the run-off and reformulate the coalition for the general election.
Besides Davis and Quigley, Chicago City Clerk Miguel del Valle has already announced a mayoral bid and has
former Sen. Carol Moseley Braun (D-Ill.) launched an exploratory bid; attorney Gery Chico, the City Colleges chief (who ran against Obama in the 2004 Senate Democratic primary) is in. Other political figures considering a run are state Sen. James Meeks (D-Chicago); Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart; Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas, who also ran against Obama in the 2004 Senate primary; and Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.)