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Chicago election results catapult Rahm Emanuel into mayor's office

No runoff needed: Rahm Emanuel, former US congressman and Obama chief of staff, wins a majority in Chicago election results to succeed longtime Mayor Richard M. Daley.

By Staff writer / February 23, 2011

Former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel speaks at his election night party Tuesday, Feb. 22, in Chicago. Emanuel wins a majority in Chicago election results on Tuesday, to succeed incumbent Richard M. Daley.

Kiichiro Sato/AP

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Chicago

Rahm Emanuel launched his mayoral campaign here in October shaking hands at El stations, a rush-hour ritual that would become familiar not just to him, but also to most public-transit commuters in Chicago. One-hundred-ten stations and thousands of handshakes later, Mr. Emanuel is mayor-elect of this city.

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The former White House chief of staff and Democratic strategist won a hard-fought battle to become Chicago’s 55th mayor, succeeding incumbent Richard M. Daley, who announced in September he would step down at the end of his term.

At a rally held at a union auditorium in the city’s West Loop neighborhood late Tuesday, Mayor-elect Emanuel stood on a stage surrounded by his wife and two children, parents, brother, and local political leaders. At times choking with tears, Emanuel gave a 15-minute speech that outlined his priorities but mainly offered gratitude to supporters and stressed unity among all factions in the city.

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“All I can say is, you sure know how to make a guy feel at home,” he said. “What makes this victory most gratifying is it was built on votes from every corner of this city.”

Ahead of Tuesday's election, Emanuel’s poll numbers never showed him winning a majority in a six-person field, leading to speculation that the likely result would be a runoff contest for another six weeks. But that didn’t happen: Emanuel received 55.2 percent of the vote on Tuesday. Gery Chico, a former chief of staff under Mayor Daley and the runner-up, received 24 percent. Chicago City Clerk Miguel del Valle won 9 percent and former US Sen. Carol Moseley Braun got slightly under 9 percent.

In total, 582,494 people cast their votes for mayor Tuesday, representing 42 percent of Chicago’s 1.4 million registered voters.

Emanuel endured a five-month campaign that challenged his right to even be on the ballot: A state law requires candidates to be residents for at least one year of the municipality in which they seek office, and Emanuel had been in Washington (though he retained a home in Chicago). Emanuel survived that legal battle, thanks to a ruling by the Illinois Supreme Court in his favor.

Still, many here perceived Emanuel as a different kind of candidate for Chicago.

“Even though he was a congressman from Chicago for three terms, he’s a celebrity from Washington,” says Don Rose, a long-time Chicago political consultant. “As much as [his campaign] tried to make him a ‘real Chicagoan,’ the realities are he is a big celebrity and a nationally known figure. We’ve never had anybody like that run.”

Despite a campaign in which Emanuel was the only white candidate in a field that included two Latino and three black challengers, racial divisions did not polarize the race. Emanuel did not campaign heavily in Chicago’s South Side and West Side, areas of the city that are predominantly black and Latino, but he nevertheless received support from many of leaders in those communities.

Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White, the highest-ranking black leader in the state, said his decision to support Emanuel was not based on race but on the candidate's national résumé.

“The proof is in the pudding,” Secretary White said during an interview at Emanuel’s rally late Tuesday night. Emanuel’s experience on the national stage shows that he “possesses the toughness not only for the job, but the responsibility that goes on with it,” White said. As for local black leaders, such as the Rev. Jesse Jackson and US Rep. Danny Davis (D), both of whom supported Ms. Moseley-Braun, White predicted that “eventually [they] will get together and coalesce” around Emanuel’s leadership to solve the city’s problems.

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