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Political Shocker: Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel Won't Seek Re-Election


Mayor Rahm Emanuel shocked Chicago when he said yesterday that he will not run for re-election next year. The former congressman and Obama White House chief of staff has served two terms as mayor, but it was far from certain that he would win. Here's NPR's David Schaper.

DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: Rahm Emanuel has long had a reputation as a ferocious campaign animal, someone who eats, drinks and breathes politics. In fact, he'd already raised $10 million for his re-election bid and, at 58, seems far from being ready to retire. So it shocked many here when Emanuel announced at Chicago City Hall that, after two terms, he would not seek a third.


RAHM EMANUEL: This has been the job of a lifetime, but it is not a job for a lifetime.

SCHAPER: Standing next to his wife, Amy Rule, and holding hands, an emotional Emanuel noted that all three of their children are now away at college.


EMANUEL: We look forward to writing the next chapter in our journey together.

SCHAPER: Emanuel gave no reason for leaving a job some predecessors held for decades, but his first 7 1/2 years in office have hardly been smooth sailing. A bitter teachers strike in 2012, the closing of 50 schools the very next year and persistent gun violence in some neighborhoods led many residents to sour on his tenure. Instead of cruising to re-election in 2015, Emanuel was forced into a runoff by a progressive county commissioner. Later that year, police violence again roiled the city after a judge forced the Emanuel administration to release dashcam video of a white police officer shooting and killing 17-year-old Laquan McDonald.


UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) Rahm, resign, Rahm, resign.

SCHAPER: Protests calling for Emanuel to resign have been frequent ever since.

LAURA WASHINGTON: People in many parts of the city believe that he was engaged in a cover-up, that he hid the videotape and hid the circumstances of that shooting until he was re-elected.

SCHAPER: Jury selection in the trial of the police officer charged with McDonald's murder is set to begin today. And Chicago Sun-Times columnist Laura Washington says for many here, the tense police community relations underscore that affluent areas of the city have thrived under Emanuel, while the city's impoverished neighborhoods on the south and west sides still struggle

WASHINGTON: The tale of two cities has haunted him since he came into office. He's never been able to be in a position where both sides of the city - the rich and the poor, the privileged and the left-out - have felt that he represents all of them.

SCHAPER: Across the city, many Chicago residents say they're surprised by Emanuel's announcement, but some are not disappointed.

RANDALL STARR: I'm happy he's not seeking re-election.

SCHAPER: Thirty-two-year-old graphic designer Randall Starr lives on Chicago's south side but works downtown, where he says...

STARR: It's beautiful (laughter).

SCHAPER: Doesn't he deserve some credit for that? Or do you feel...

STARR: For that, yeah, but then if you go further south, there's so much stuff going on that is not being addressed.

SCHAPER: Now that Emanuel is out, the race for Chicago mayor is wide open.

JACK LAVIN: It's a big moment. We're at a crossroads.

SCHAPER: Jack Lavin heads the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce. He gives Emanuel high marks for improving education, expanding O'Hare Airport and for investing in transit and infrastructure.

LAVIN: I think Mayor Emanuel has done a lot of good things for the city to attract jobs, attract businesses, including corporate headquarters, and to make sure that we're developing our talent.

SCHAPER: Lavin says such investments will play a crucial role for the next mayor as he or she tackles poverty, violent crime and the uneven economic opportunity that still divides Chicago into what many here say is two very different cities. David Schaper, NPR News, Chicago.

(SOUNDBITE OF LEAVV'S "VALLEY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Schaper is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk, based in Chicago, primarily covering transportation and infrastructure, as well as breaking news in Chicago and the Midwest.
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