Last week’s surprise announcement that Mayor Richard M. Daley (aka “Hizzoner”) would be stepping down has thrown Chicago politics into a tailspin. The cocktail party game du jour is speculating over who’s going to run – and with exploratory committees popping up left and right, it’s likely to be an ugly fight. As a recovering Chicagoan, I find the contest a fascinating contrast in narcissism and masochism (who really wants to inherit a $655 million budget shortfall, after all?)
Sen. Carol Moseley Braun, Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart, and Rep. Luis Gutierrez have all but thrown their hats in the ring, and many more are certain to follow. The name on everyone’s lips, though, is that of White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel.
Speaking with Charlie Rose in April 2010, Emanuel said that running for mayor of Chicago has always been an “aspiration” of his. At the time, Daley – a wordsmith, if there ever was one – simply stated that he admired Emanuel for having dreams and that “everybody would love to be mayor of Chicago,” rather than endorsing the proposition.
Yet now, months later, Daley’s resignation throws that door wide open. President Obama has said that he thinks Rahm would make a “terrific” mayor, and as a hometown politician, that endorsement is likely to carry a lot of water. But as the Chicago Sun-Times’ Lynn Sweet points out, “Rahm has money, but no solid base.” It’s not an insurmountable problem – after all, Emanuel was a hugely successful political strategist when he ran the DCCC – but there’s a lot of ground to be made up before the primary takes place. (Not to mention the fact that it’s a little bit more, uh, delicate to earn support through tit-for-tat transactions when you’re in the spotlight.)
Despite Daley’s many foibles, one of his best qualities has been his ability to unite Chicago’s disparate ethnic groups and keep the peace – not unlike Tito in Yugoslavia. (To some, the similarities don’t end there, but I’m not going to get into that.) Will Rahm will be able to follow in Daley’s footsteps and build a winning coalition – or will the Windy City just blow him off? At this point, it’s anyone’s guess.