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In Chicago mayor's race, Rahm Emanuel works behind the scenes

As competitors for Chicago mayor's office start to kick their campaigns into gear, Rahm Emanuel is reported to make a key hire even as he gauges his electability.

By Staff writer / September 24, 2010

In this April 11 photo, Rahm Emanuel walks along a driveway at the White House in Washington. Emanuel's potential bid to run for mayor of Chicago is gaining momentum as he works behind the scenes.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP

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Chicago

Rahm Emanuel’s potential bid to run for mayor of Chicago is gaining momentum as local media outlets here are reporting that he is working behind the scenes to gauge his electability against a crowded slate of competitors, some of whom are already starting to ramp up their campaigns.

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One candidate, Chicago City Clerk Miguel del Valle, became the first to officially announce and to release a television ad that started airing this week on local cable stations.

Mr. Emanuel, President Obama's chief of staff, may not be on the ground in Chicago, but he is reported to be making calls and holding meetings with potential foes, both to form alliances and possibly to flex his strengths. The Chicago Sun-Times reported Friday he has hired Terry Peterson, the former board chairman of the Chicago Transit Authority who ran Mayor Richard Daley’s campaign four years ago.

US Rep. Danny Davis, who is also preparing to run for the mayor's office, told the Chicago Tribune a meeting at Emanuel’s request took place between the two men on Tuesday. “I got the impression it is very likely he is going to do this,” Mr. Davis said, who added that they talked about the types of campaign each wanted to run and about their shared interest to “keep the city as harmonized as possible.”

If Emanuel chooses to run, the Nov. 22 deadline is approaching to submit at least 12,500 signatures to get him on the ballot. Most candidates submit twice that amount, political observers say, to account for the high volume of signatures that will inevitably be thrown out for various reasons.

The candidates who have either announced they are running or who have already dispatched small armies of volunteers to collect signatures include local aldermen, clergymen, union leaders, and senior elected officials including Davis, Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart, US Rep. Luis Gutierrez, and former Sen. Carol Moseley Braun.

The flurry of activity is being seen as a way to generate voter awareness and to court campaign dollars before Emanuel returns to Chicago to start what is expected to be a rigorous campaign with deep pockets. Not only does he have a reported $1.75 million available in a war chest, he is also a fund-raiser with a storied track record, having helped raise millions of dollars for Mr. Daley’s first election campaign in 1989.

Some observers, meanwhile, say that whatever his campaigning prowess, and despite the attention he is getting in the national media, a victory for Emanuel is far from assured.

Dick Simpson, a political science professor at University of Illinois-Chicago and a former Chicago alderman, said that Emanuel, a former Illinois congressman, lacks lasting ties with the black and Latino communities any frontrunner needs to win a consensus in Chicago.

Mr. Simpson says Emanuel will be criticized for tabling immigration reform and civil rights from the administrative agenda while in the White House. He also never developed significant ties with minority leaders in Chicago because he represented a North Side district that was largely white.

“Where does he get traction with these communities? You can’t just start [those relationships] in the late stage of your mayoral campaign. That’s not quite the way it works here,” Simpson says.

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