CHICAGO – In a surprise announcement, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Tuesday that he would abandon his effort to seek a third term next year but gave no reason for his sudden change of heart.
The 58-year-old former White House chief of staff known for his pugnacious political style said only that he and his wife “look forward to writing that next chapter in our journey together.”
“This has been the job of a lifetime, but it is not a job for a lifetime,” the mayor said, reading prepared remarks at a news conference where he was joined at the podium by his wife. He held her hand throughout the announcement.
Emanuel had been running for months and raising money. The Chicago Tribune said he had already amassed more than $10 million to campaign for another four-year term.
His announcement came the day before the start of one of the biggest police-shooting trials in Chicago history. The release almost three years ago of a dashcam video showing officer Jason Van Dyke shooting black teenager Laquan McDonald 16 times in 2014 drew the sharpest criticism of Emanuel in his two terms.
No matter how the trial ends, Emanuel’s legacy as mayor will likely be tied to the case.
Many people questioned whether his office delayed releasing the video to lessen the political damage. The trial is expected to draw added scrutiny of how the city, and Emanuel, dealt with the case.
A verdict in the officer’s favor or a hung jury could prompt another crisis in the city, angering many Chicagoans, inviting large protests and creating a volatile political atmosphere.
Looking back on his time as mayor, Emanuel said his top priorities included rebuilding trust between police and the community. He also cited the improvement of Chicago schools, better financial management of the city and the modernization of transportation infrastructure.
Before becoming mayor in 2011, Emanuel was a Democratic congressman and chief of staff to President Barack Obama. He followed Richard M. Daley, who was mayor for more than 20 years. He won a second term in a 2015 runoff.
There are now no front-runners in the race to lead the nation’s third-largest city, and Emanuel’s departure will almost certainly encourage others to enter it.
As mayor, Emanuel won some praise for his efforts to upgrade schools, including by adopting a longer school day. He also attracted companies to the city and took measures to ease crisis surrounding the worst-funded pension system of any major U.S. city.
But he was also accused of plowing ahead on policy changes without consulting others. He often reveled in his tough-guy reputation.
In his Tuesday statement, Emanuel several times referred to his family, noting that his three kids are now in college. But he stopped short of saying family considerations drove his decision.
“Politicians always say they’re leaving office to spend more time with their family,” he said. “My kids were smart enough to see that coming and scattered to the two coasts. So as of the other day, we are now empty nesters.”
Emanuel grew up in the ritzy Chicago suburb of Wilmette, the son of an Israeli physician who moved to the United States. His start in politics came after college, when he worked for Sen. Paul Simon’s 1984 Senate campaign and Richard Daley’s run for Chicago mayor in 1989.
Then he went to work for a little-known Arkansas governor who wanted to be president.
Emanuel’s fundraising skills helped keep Bill Clinton’s campaign afloat during some rocky times, particularly the scandal over whether he’d slept with Gennifer Flowers.
Clinton made him his political director in the new administration but internal tensions led to his comeuppance a year later at the hands of Hillary Rodham Clinton, when he was demoted to a policy adviser.
Midway through Clinton’s second term, Emanuel left for Chicago to work in investment banking. The firm he joined was soon sold and Emanuel made millions, giving him the financial security to get back into politics.
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