"What makes this victory most gratifying is that it was built on votes from every corner of this city from people who believe that common challenges must be met with common purpose. It's a victory for all those who believe we can overcome the old divisions and old ways," said Emanuel. "It is easy to find differences, but we can never allow them to become divisions. Tonight, we are moving forward in the only way we truly can - together, as one city with one future."
In his victory address at Plumbers Hall, Emanuel, 51, spoke about education, parenting, the economy and jobs. "The plural pronoun of 'we' is how we're going to meet the challenges."
Emanuel said Chicago needs a budget that is balanced and a playing field that is even, and he told voters that he would be out to thank them Wednesday at CTA train stops.
Emanuel opened up a strong early lead with more than half the vote tabulated within an hour of the polls closing. He finished just as strong, with a 55 percent lead and 98 percent of the precincts reporting at 10 p.m.
To win the election outright and avoid a runoff, Emanuel had to get 50 percent of the total votes cast plus one vote.
The other major candidates conceded as early as 8:30 p.m. Former U.S. Senator Carol Moseley Braun was first. She told supporters she "gave it her best." Former Chicago Public Schools chief Gery Chico, who came in second to Emanuel, told supporters he spoke with Emanuel on the phone and pledged to help the new mayor any way he could. "I want with all of my heart with Rahm Emanuel to be successful as mayor. We need that, ladies and gentlemen. I want nothing less," Chico said.
City Clerk Miguel del Valle also conceded.
Emanuel was long the frontrunner in the race to replace Mayor Richard M. Daley, who is Chicago's longest-serving mayor. Emanuel said he spoke with Mayor Daley and thanked him for "a lifetime of service for his city."
It was the city's first mayoral race in more than 60 years without an incumbent on the ballot and the first in more than two decades without Daley among the candidates. Daley and his father have led Chicago for more than 43 out of the last 56 years.
Emanuel left his job as White House chief of staff to U.S. President Barack Obama to run for mayor. President Obama released a statement Tuesday: "I want to extend my congratulations to Rahm Emanuel on a well-deserved victory tonight. As a Chicagoan and a friend, I couldn't be prouder. Rahm will be a terrific mayor for all the people of Chicago."
Emanuel's residency status was questioned by critics because he spent the year before the campaign living in Washington, D.C. The Illinois Supreme Court eventually ruled Emanuel was in fact a resident of the City of Chicago.
Emanuel took an early lead Tuesday evening less than hour after the polls closed at 7 p.m. One precinct in the 20th Ward stayed open until 8 p.m. because it got a late start.
Chico had 24 percent of the vote compared to 9 percent for both del Valle and Braun. Two other lesser-known candidates each got about 1 percent of the vote.
Emanuel first declared his victory on Twitter when he wrote, "Thank you Chicago! Your hard work & support got us here. Looking forward to working together as your next mayor."
Emanuel, a married father of three, will be the city's first Jewish mayor.