Rahm Emanuel's bid to replace outgoing Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley got a giant boost today.
Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart, a popular Democrat, announced he would not run for mayor in the Feb., 2011 election. Dart, who had widely been seen as Emanuel's most formidable foe, said he could not run for mayor and also do his job as sheriff.
Dart's surprise announcement follows Tuesday's decision by Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr. not to enter the race either. Jackson, who is running for reelection to Congress, bowed out amid allegations of involvement in the Rod Blagojevich scandal and reports of his relationship with a female "social acquaintance."
That leaves Emanuel with a clearer path to the coveted fifth floor office of Chicago's city hall. He now faces likely opposition from two prominent African-Americans, Rev. James Meeks, an Illinois legislator, and former U.S. Senator Carol Mosely Braun. Two Hispanic politicians, Chicago city clerk Miguel Del Valle and former city colleges president Gery Chico, are also running.
Rahm's Path Clears, but Hurdles RemainEmanuel, who embarked on what he called a "listening tour" of Chicago after leaving the White House, has some clear advantages, including name recognition and a proven ability to raise money for a presidential-style campaign. Next week, he's headed to a star-studded Hollywood fundraiser hosted by his brother, Ari, the famous talent agent, and other major Democratic donors including David Geffen. In Chicago, Emanuel's campaign co-chair is Mellody Hobson, a key fundraiser for Barack Obama.
Nonetheless, Emanuel's election is not guaranteed in a city whose ethnic tensions have largely been kept under control during Daley's six terms.
Emanuel's campaign has already been dogged by charges he is not a legal resident because of his time living in Washington.
"Chicagoans aren't sure he's one of us," according to Dick Simpson, a former alderman who now teaches political science at the University of Illinois-Chicago.
Simpson said, "there is an anybody but Rahm" mentality at City Hall, where aldermen are wary of another Daley-style boss. Some African-American community leaders are working to rally around a single black candidate to challenge Emanuel.
Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass cautions that Emanuel faces a tough campaign in a city where politics is a considered a blood sport. Said Kass, "Think of what it feels like to get smacked in the mouth with the back of a hand or fist. That's Chicago politics."