Rahm Emanuel leaves WH, mum on mayoral run

President Barack Obama gives outgoing White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel a hug after Emanuel announced that he will be stepping down to run for Mayor of Chicago, Friday, Oct. 1, 2010, during an event in the East Room of the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

December 15, 2010 12:33:42 PM PST
After weeks of speculation, President Barack Obama said Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel is leaving the White House. Emanuel said he was excited to get back to Chicago, but didn't officially announce he was running for mayor.

VIDEO: Pres. Obama's full remarks on Emanuel's resignation
VIDEO: Emanuel's full remarks on leaving White House

"Welcome to the least suspenseful announcement of all time," said Pres. Obama as he announced Emanuel resigned from his position to return to Chicago. "He has been a great friend of mine and will continue to be a great friend of mine. He has been a selfless public servant. He has been an outstanding chief of staff. I will miss him dearly."

President Obama went on to say it was a "bittersweet moment." He also said that he felt Emanuel was "extraordinarily well-qualified" to be mayor of Chicago.

Emanuel returned the sentiment, and said he was sad to leave, but excited to get back to Chicago, which he called the "greatest city in the greatest country in the world."

"Mr. President, these are great times in Chicago. The Bears are 3-0," Emanuel joked. He did not officially enter the race for Chicago mayor on Friday, but said, "I'm energized by the prospect of new challenges and eager to see what I can do to make our hometown even greater."

The often brash Emanuel choked up when talking about his immigrant family. He said he was raised to give back to his community and thanked President Obama for the chance to serve.

"I have served you as a member of your staff, Mr. President, but I've also seen you as a friend," Emanuel. "Thank you for your warm friendship, your confidence and the opportunity to serve you and your country in such times... I will never leave that spirit of service behind."

Emanuel joked about his temperament and thanked colleagues for their patience. "I'm sure you learned some words you've never heard before, and an assortment and combination of words," said Emanuel.

As a going away gift, the White House staff gave Emanuel a dead Asian carp wrapped in Chicago newspapers, a callback to a time in the pre-Chief of Staff past when Emanuel once gave a dead fish to a pollster he had a dispute with.

Emanuel first publically showed interest in running for mayor of Chicago in April. In early September Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley announced he would not seek reelection and rumors about Emanuel's possible candidacy swirled.

ABC7 has learned that many members of what used to be Mayor Daley's political army are hoping to form Emanuel's campaign team.

Senior advisor Pete Rouse will now serve as interim chief of staff for President Obama at the White House. "He's known as a skillful problems solver, and the good news for him is we have plenty of problems to solve," Pres. Obama said of Rouse. "There's a saying around the White House, 'Let Pete fix it.'"

White House chief of staffs normally stay on the job 18 months to 2 years.

Obama: Emanuel would be 'excellent mayor'

Shortly after the announcement, President Obama held an off-the-record session with Chicago reporters in the Oval Office. The president was happy to see familiar faces, according to ABC7's Charles Thomas, and issued the invite.

Obama spoke briefly on the record about Emanuel's chances in the mayoral race.

"I think he would make an excellent mayor and he would bring incredible energy to the job," said Obama.

Axelrod later said that should not be considered an endorsement.

Does Emanuel have enough local clout?

He has a national reputation, but does Emanuel have the local clout to get elected the next mayor of Chicago?

"No one has told me they're going to be out there supporting Rahm Emanuel yet," said Joe Berrios, the Cook County Democratic Party chairman and candidate for assessor.

Berrios echoed a growing sentiment among party regulars that the residency problem facing Emanuel is more than just talk.

"I'm sure that the other candidates that are going to be running will be challenging his residency, so he has a lot of things to think about," said Berrios.

Emanuel still owns a North Side house but has not lived in it for more than a year. At least two potential candidates for mayor have retained lawyers to file cases to keep Emanuel off the ballot.

"My reaction is that Rahm Emanuel cannot run for mayor because Rahm Emanuel has not lived in the City of Chicago for a year," said State Senator Rev. James Meeks on Friday. "My lawyers have assured me to prepare to run a race without Rahm Emanuel in that race."

State Senator and mayoral candidate Rickey Hendon predicts the legal challenges will not only cost the North Sider time and dollars, but will also embolden other white candidates.

"If he does has a residency problem, that's gonna keep the white candidates in the race, because they see him as damaged, and they may be able to keep him on the ballot," said Hendon.

On Friday, presidential advisor David Axelrod, well-known as a Chicago political consultant, downplayed the possibility that an Emanuel candidacy could be derailed by a residency challenge.

"I think the old days where you used technicalities and tricks to try and push your opponents off the ballot is part of the past, and the guys who want to push that are part of the past as well," said Axelrod.

A potential mayoral candidate, Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart, was among hundreds of Cook County Democrats at a gathering Thursday night.

"I really find myself I'm more a candidate who doesn't like to go off and say, 'I promise to do X, Y, and Z,'" said Dart. "I can just say, 'look what I've done,' and it's been stuff that's been heartfelt and productive."

On Friday, 2nd Ward Alderman Bob Fioretti said he felt Emanuel would face candidates who may have stronger connections to the community than the outgoing White House Chief of Staff.

"For a congressman now to come back and think he can run the city - we'll see what happens in February," said Fioretti.

Fioretti said, however, that he does not feel Emanuel's candidacy would be presumptuous.

"I think that the more people that are in this race, the better it is, because we're going to raise the level of debate - how to deal with public safety - how to deal with education," said Fioretti.

Emanuel is expected to return to Chicago during the weekend and begin a "listening tour" in neighborhoods on Monday.

"If he's going on a listening tour, that leads me to believe he's really not in touch with Chicago," said 9th Ward Alderman Anthony Beale Thursday night.

Mayoral contender and City Colleges of Chicago Chairman Gery Chico echoed Beale's sentiment Friday, saying, "I don't have to do a listening tour."

"I think when the people of Chicago have time to weigh the candidates, they will decide I have the strongest qualifications to be mayor of this city and I am really going to work hard for their support," said Chico.

Uncommitted Alderman Tom Tunney, who runs the 44th Ward Democratic organization, looks forward to his former congressman's upcoming "listening tour."

"He has good name recognition, he has the ability to raise money, and I think what he will do and I think what he intends to do is really listen," said Tunney.

Tunney would not speculate Thursday night on whether Emanuel had a better shot in the race than any other possible candidate, saying Emanuel's chances are "as good as anyone else's out there."

21st Ward Alderman Howard Brookins raised concern over Emanuel's possible lack of support in African-American neighborhoods, but said that it is an obstacle Emanuel may be able to overcome.

"Not only has he not been in the city, but I don't know that he's been anywhere in African-American communities, and so I think he has a tremendous hill to climb as far as we're concerned," said Brookins. "It may not be insurmountable, but he needs to come by us and come by our communities."

Alderman Ed Burke says he cannot remember when Emanuel ever visited his Southwest Side 14th Ward and wonders if just under five months is enough time for any candidate to make a citywide impression.

"Whoever finally decides to get into the race is going to have a short time to link up with the people of Chicago," said Burke.

Emanuel is well-known in political circles for being hard-charging, demanding and aggressive, an approach that may work well in Washington. In Chicago Thursday night, Democrats said Emanuel will not be able to buy or plow his way into the mayor's office.

"People in Chicago really don't know Rahm. He's going to come in here with a lot of money, I'm sure. He's going to try to out-raise every minority candidate. That's something we're going to have to deal with," said Berrios Thursday night. "I think everyone deserves a chance to run, and it shouldn't be the guy with the most money."

The special guest at Thursday night's event, former presidential candidate and former Democratic National Chairman Howard Dean, declined to comment on Emanuel's chances.

"I am not commenting on anybody who is running for mayor of Chicago - that's one I plan to stay out of," said Dean. "That's up to the people in Chicago, and it's not the election that has my attention right this moment."

His focus is on the November 2nd midterms, and even some local powerhouse Democrats like Dick Mell would rather focus on that than the mayor's race.

"I'm more interested in what's going to go on in November 2nd," said Mell Thursday night.


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