Jim Dey | Emanuel's bow-out boggles the mind

Jim Dey | Emanuel's bow-out boggles the mind

In terms of political surprises, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel authored a shocker Tuesday when he announced that he won't seek a third term in office.

This after his organization collected thousands of petition signatures, raised $10 million in campaign funds and battled in court to keep former Gov. Pat Quinn's proposed referendum limiting Chicago mayors to two terms off the fall ballot.

"This has been the job of a lifetime, but it is not a job for a lifetime," Emanuel said.

Emanuel couldn't be more wrong — all modern-era Chicago mayors stay until they have no choice but to go.

The two best examples are Mayor Daleys I & II.

Richard J. Daley was mayor from 1955 until 1976, when a fatal heart attack denied the 74-year-old "boss" of the Chicago Machine his destiny of ruling the city forever. Richard M. Daley served even longer than his father, from 1989 until 2011, when the city's squalid finances and years of physical and mental wear and tear finally convinced him it was time to go.

In the interim, Mayor Harold Washington died during his second term in office, while mayors Jane Byrne and Michael Bilandic were defeated in re-election bids.

Since Emanuel's word that he's walking away on his own accord can't be taken at face value, there's rampant speculation that dim re-election prospects prompted his change of mind.

Although still a formidable candidate, there's something to the assertion that Emanuel is in political trouble.

For starters, one could look to the Cook County Criminal Courts building Tuesday, where Chicago police Officer Jason Van Dyke went on trial for murder in connection with the fatal shooting of 16-year-old Laquan McDonald.

Video of the shooting, showing Van Dyke firing 16 shots into McDonald while the youth was walking in the street, inflamed black residents of the city. They viewed it as another example of how police officers — Emanuel's police officers — abuse them.

They were further aggrieved by Emanuel's unsuccessful effort to cover up the case, sitting on the video of the incident until after his 2015 re-election while authorizing a quiet out-of-court settlement to McDonald's family.

The uncovering of Emanuel's cover-up devastated the mayor's support in the black community, prompting him to seek alliances with Hispanics to maintain a winning coalition.

If he had stayed in the race, his rebuilding effort and political tools at his disposal might have worked.

After all, he had $10 million — more than his 10 opponents combined.

But it promised to be a bruising run in the Feb. 26 primary. If he survived that, there was the April 2 general election.

Ultimately, the self-styled tough guy — "The Rahmfather," who reveled in his reputation as a profane bully who took no prisoners — decided the process would be too tough for him.

Politics abhors a vacuum, and Emanuel's departure creates a big hole ambitious politicos will seek to fill.

One name already being bandied about is Democratic Attorney General Lisa Madigan, daughter of House Speaker Michael Madigan.

Lisa Madigan surprised everyone last year when she announced that she would not seek a fifth term as attorney general. But it was not for a want of ambition that she stepped aside.

She was blocked from running for governor because her father refuses to step down as House speaker. Further, Illinois already has two Democratic U.S. Senators — Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth.

So Madigan had — with emphasis on had — nowhere to go. Now she does — the mayor's office would be a nice feather in the cap of the Madigan family, although the day-to-day nature of the job may be too grimy for her taste.

Other names already have popped up, like Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.

Who knows who will get in? Dozens of ambitious Chicago politicos go to bed at night and dream of holding that office and all the power, perks and patronage that go with it.

Don't count out Emanuel's dreams, either. This is a guy who wanted Chicago U.S. Rep. Michael Quigley, who represents Emanuel's old House district, to agree not to run for re-election if and when Emanuel stepped down as mayor.

Emanuel was hoping to regain his old House seat so he could realize another dream — becoming speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Quigley rejected Emanuel's outrageous request. But any guy with enough chutzpah to make a suggestion like that isn't likely to ride off into the sunset, not to be heard from again.

Jim Dey, a member of The News-Gazette staff, can be reached by email at jdey@news-gazette.com or by phone at 217-351-5369.

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