Former White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel "officially" launched his Chicago mayoral bid on Saturday -- a formality since he has been campaigning for five weeks -- casting himself as an anti-tax, crime fighting, pro-education candidate.
He pledged no tax hikes despite the city's budget crisis, making communities safe from pervasive gang violence, reducing the award of no-bid contracts, and bringing about improvements in city schools.
"Chicago is where I was born, and where my children were raised. They are the fourth generation of my family to live here," Emanuel said at his announcement speech in a gym at a North Side Chicago elementary school, re-establishing his Chicago credentials after moving to Washington in 2009 to serve in the Obama administration.
"Only the opportunity to help President Obama as his chief of staff could have pried me away from Chicago. And only the opportunity to lead this city could have pried me away from the President's side. Because he knows and loves Chicago, President Obama supported my decision – for which I am grateful," Emanuel said.
Emanuel's words were carefully crafted since Obama has not made an endorsement-but has said Emanuel will make an excellent mayor. Obama also hosted an East Wing send-off for Emanuel on Oct. 1 intended to give him a running start in his mayoral bid through free media coverage generated by the event, underscored by his encouraging words.
Emanuel gave up his House seat to work for Obama in a district anchored on Chicago's North Side, which included Coonley Elementary where he made his Saturday speech, flanked by family and supporters.
At this stage, several polls make Emanuel the front-runner in the contest to replace Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley -- in part because of his celebrity status, which has brought him massive coverage in Chicago news outlets, and because other rivals either decided not to run
or are taking their time getting their campaigns organized.
Others in the race include former Sen. Carol Moseley Braun (D-Ill.) who will formalize her bid on Nov. 20; Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.) and state Sen. James Meeks (D-Chicago) who make it official Sunday and City Clerk Miguel Del Valle attorney Gery Chico, the former City Colleges chief who jumped in the race without an exploratory phase.
Alluding to Chicago's cut-throat politics, where race and ethnicity play a role, underscored by ward and regional rivalries,Emanuel in his speech suggested that the "we cannot accept a campaign based on negative attacks and character assassination."
Emanuel began his bid a few days after Daley stunned the Chicago political establishment last September with his surprise announcement that he would not seek a seventh term. Back in Chicago a few days after Obama gave him a grand good-bye, Emanuel has been on a city-wide "Tell it Like it Is" listening tour through Chicago's neighborhoods.
Emanuel started his mayoral run with a major financial advantage over any rivals because he is able to use for the mayoral race the $1.175 million he had in his House warchest. The one-time professional fund-raiser has enormous fund-raising ability and on Nov. 4 traveled to Beverly Hills, where his brother, Hollywood superagent Ari Emanuel, helped him raise cash.
In his speech, Emanuel, always a staunch Daley loyalist, praised Daley's near 22 year tenure. While making it clear it's time for improvements, Emanuel said, "No one could love this city more than Mayor Daley,"
Emanuel starts a TV commercial blitz on Monday. His media consultants AKPD Message and Media, is the firm founded by White House Senior Advisor David Axelrod.
Chicago's Feb. 22 primary is non-partisan. If no candidate gets more than fifty percent of the vote, the top two vote getters will face an April 5 runoff. Nominating petitions-with 12,500 valid signatures-are due no later than Nov. 22.