Rahm Emanuel, Chicago Mayor-Elect, Faces Tough Budget Challenges in Cash-Strapped City

Emanuel will face tough budget challenges in cash-strapped city.

ByABC News
February 23, 2011, 12:56 PM

CHICAGO, Feb 23, 2011— -- The morning after his convincing victory, Chicago mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel was shaking hands and thanking voters at an "El" (elevated train) stop in a predominately African-American neighborhood on the city's south side this morning.

Emanuel's winning coalition was impressive in its diversity; he carried 40 of the city's 50 wards and won 48% of the black vote. In Chicago's often divisive racial politics, an overt attempt by Rev. Jesse Jackson to unify African American voters behind former U.S.Sen. Carol Moseley Braun failed miserably.

Braun's campaign, beset with a series of embarrassing gaffes, stumbled to a weak fourth place. She won only 20% of Chicago's African-American voters, who make up about a third of the city's residents.

Asked about the racial tensions in Chicago politics, Emanuel, 51, told ABC News today, "Do we have differences? Yes."

"But we cannot and will not let them to become points of division. People know these challenges are common challenges," Emanuel continued.

Emanuel, who replaces the dynastic powerhouse Richard M. Daley, who served for 22 years, faces daunting challenges including a $655 million budget gap in the current fiscal year and unfunded pension liabilities estimated at more than $20 billion. Today, Emanuel promised to freeze $75 million in new city spending on his first day in office, and told reporters that he would refuse a pension.

Emanuel, known for his toughness and profanity during his time in Washington — as a leading Democratic congressman and Obama chief of staff — has remained remarkably calm in public throughout the campaign. Now, he faces the political equivalent of herding cats in Chicago's city council — made up of 50 aldermen.

In the Daley era, the city council was little more than a rubber stamp. But key leaders, including Alderman Ed Burke — who backed Emanuel opponent Gery Chico for mayor — have made it clear those days are over and that they intend to exert far more independence when Emanuel begins his term in May.