In a stunning decision, Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced Tuesday morning that he will no longer seek a third term in office, signaling the end to what has been a tumultuous — and at times transformative — eight years in office.
With First Lady Amy Rule by his side, an emotional Emanuel said the time simply had come to write a new chapter in their lives together.
“I’ve decided not to seek re-election,” Emanuel said. “This has been the job of a lifetime, but it is not a job for a lifetime.”
Emanuel’s decision marks a dramatic political reversal, as for the better part of the last year he had said he would run for a third term. The mayor, long a prolific fundraiser, had already reeled in more than $10 million toward a bid for a third term.
Over the holiday weekend, though, whispers began emerge that Emanuel might not embark on a third campaign. The mayor’s closest aides privately dismissed the talk as “bull” and “BS.” Emanuel even told some close friends who called to inquire that the rumors weren’t true. A top aide close to the mayor said he didn’t make the final decision until Monday.
Emanuel weighed the decision as the murder trial of Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke is scheduled to begin this week, a high-profile case that is sure to bring about fresh scrutiny of his handling of the Laquan McDonald police shooting, in which Van Dyke shot the teen 16 times in October 2014 as he walked down a Southwest Side street holding a small folding knife.
For most of 2015, Emanuel fought in court not to release police video of the shooting, arguing the matter was still under investigation. When a judge ordered Emanuel to release the video in November 2015, then-Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez filed murder charges against Van Dyke on the same day Emanuel made the video public.
The controversy led to a federal civil rights investigation of the police department, accusations of a City Hall cover-up and weeks of street protests that called for Emanuel’s resignation. It also left Emanuel saddled with deep unpopularity among African-American voters, a demographic that he performed strongly with in his previous campaigns for mayor.
The mayor, though, weathered the storm and has overseen widespread changes within the Police Department, from naming a new superintendent to overhauling training and instituting the use of body cameras while equipping all officers with Tasers. Emanuel also is in the midst of negotiations with Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan over a consent decree that would place the authority of reforms in the Chicago Police Department with a federal judge.
Police issues aside, Emanuel also had drawn the ire of some voters for record property taxes he instituted to shore up the city’s woefully underfunded police employee pensions and for closing 50 schools in 2013, a move he said was necessary because of significant under enrollment in schools on the city’s South and West Sides. The Emanuel administration’s ongoing struggle to tamp down recent spikes in gun violence — including a recent weekend in which 64 were shot, 12 of them fatally — also drew regular criticisms that he hadn’t done enough to provide more job and economic opportunities on the South and West Sides. The mayor and Chicago Public Schools also have scrambled to respond to a Chicago Tribune investigation this summer that detailed how the district had failed to safeguard children from sexual abuse.
For Emanuel, though, there also have been plenty of accomplishments. The mayor expanded full-day kindergarten citywide and has embarked on a four-year program to make free pre-Kindergarten available across the city while overseeing a steady rise in high school graduation rates.
Emanuel also likely will be viewed as the mayor who put Chicago back on the path to financial stability — dramatically raising taxes and fees to shore up four public employee pension funds that had become grossly underfunded during the tenure of predecessor Richard M. Daley. While work remains on the financial front, City Hall remains on a more stable footing than when Emanuel took office.
The mayor noted his fiscal and educational record Tuesday during his surprise announcement at City Hall. He said the plans he’s put in place eventually will lead to an additional four years in classroom time for Chicago’s students.
“At the end of the day, what matters most in public life is four more years for our children,” a solemn Emanuel said, “not four more years for me.”
The mayor also thanked the thousands of Chicagoans he’s interacted with during his more than seven years in office.
“It will fill my eyes with tears to leave a job I love and already my heart is full with gratitude,” Emanuel said. “We’ve worked together. We’ve celebrated progress together. And we have grieved together.”
Emanuel’s recent rocky years at the city’s helm drew an early — and larger — field of opposition than what has been typical of past Chicago mayor’s races.
Twelve challengers already have announced their candidacies. They include former Police Board president and onetime federal prosecutor Lori Lightfoot, former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas, former Chicago police Superintendent Garry McCarthy, millionaire businessman Willie Wilson, activist Ja’Mal Green, Cook County Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown, Chicago principals association President Troy LaRaviere, tech entrepreneur Neal Sales-Griffin, policy consultant Amara Enyia, attorney John Kozlar and pharmaceutical technician and DePaul student Matthew Roney.
Still, none of those challengers is considered to be a political heavyweight with the instant name recognition and deep pocketed donors that Emanuel brought to the table when he left the White House in 2010 as then-President Barack Obama’s chief of staff to run for mayor. Speculation is sure to swirl on who else might enter the race, including former Obama Secretary of Education and former CPS CEO Arne Duncan and former Obama White House senior advisor Valerie Jarrett among others.
How much Emanuel will play a role moving forward — and what he’ll do with the several millions of dollars in his campaign fund — remains to be seen.
“I will never forget the honor it has been to serve alongside you, the people of Chicago, every step of the way,” Emanuel said as he ended his news conference Tuesday. “So, from bottom of my heart, thank you and God bless you and God bless the people of Chicago.”
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