In Chicago, Mayor Emanuel?

By Anne E. Kornblut and Dan Balz
Wednesday, September 8, 2010

White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel has made no secret of his desire to run for mayor of Chicago one day, saying as recently as April that becoming chief executive of his home town had "always been an aspiration."

Suddenly, he has his chance.

With the surprise announcement Tuesday that Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley (D) will not run next year for a seventh term, speculation in Washington quickly turned to whether Emanuel will seek the job. White House officials spent the afternoon informally speculating about the odds that Emanuel might leave - and pondering who would replace him if he did.

Almost universally, political strategists said they expected Emanuel, a former Illinois congressman, to seize the opening. "I'd be shocked if he didn't run," a senior White House official said.

Daley, 68, announced his retirement on the steps of City Hall, taking even some of his closest allies by surprise. Although his approval ratings have slipped over the past year, Daley said it was a "personal decision" made after more than two decades as Chicago mayor, a tenure that will surpass even that of his father, who was mayor from 1955 to 1976.

"It's time for Chicago to move on," Daley said. "I've given it my all."

A return to Chicago would bring Emanuel, 50, full circle to the city where he stuffed political pamphlets into mailboxes as a high-schooler and where his mother was a political activist. Emanuel rose to national prominence as the chief fundraiser for Daley's first mayoral campaign in 1989, working alongside another future architect of the Obama presidency, David Axelrod.

Speaking with reporters Tuesday, Axelrod said that he and Emanuel were both "a little stunned" to learn of Daley's retirement plans, adding that they had both "strongly assumed" he would run for another term in 2011.

"So we're just absorbing that news," Axelrod said. As for Emanuel, Axelrod said that he "has got a lot on his plate right now."

"He's got a pretty responsible job," he said. "And that's what he's focused on right now."

Other Obama advisers and friends - several of them deeply versed in Illinois politics - said it would be hard to envision Emanuel passing up an opportunity to run for the only elected office he has said he wants. He is especially eager to return to the role of principal, something he sacrificed by relinquishing his congressional seat to serve as chief of staff, several colleagues said.

"He enjoys the rough and tumble. He enjoys making decisions. And he loves the city of Chicago," said one friend of Emanuel's. "I can't imagine this is something he would pass on."

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