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Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel Drops Out, and it's Lord of the Flies, Again

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

Mayor Rahm Emanuel drops a political bombshell on Chicago, announcing he won't run for re-election, and just like that the race for mayor has been transformed: It's Lord of the Flies on LaSalle Street.


Bill Daley, son of the late Mayor Richard J. Daley and brother of former Mayor Richard M. Daley, is rumored to be getting in. And Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza, protege of Boss Madigan, might also jump.

Now, the one announced candidate who benefits from Emanuel's decision to pull the plug is former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas. He's no friend of the Rahmulans. And they are no friends of his.

But institutional Chicago -- the banks and others of the financial sector, the foundations and so on -- and those who write the big campaign checks, may now see Vallas as the only announced candidate who can run Chicago from day one.

"The public has to decide: 'Who can really run the city?'" Vallas told me after Emanuel's announcement. "Who has the necessary experience? Who can put together a financial plan? I can."

And the Rahmulans, hoping to hold on to power with Rahm going away, may entice former White House adviser Valerie Jarrett or former U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan into the mix. Lead Rahmulan media merlin David Axelrod could tell them what to say. Former President Barack Obama could blow hot breath upon them and make them real.

I speculated about this weeks ago on the "Chicago Way" podcast. And now we'll see how Chicago politics works with a lame duck mayor.

Emanuel made his announcement Tuesday at an emotional news conference, joined by his wife, Amy Rule.


"It will fill my eyes with tears to leave a job I love, and already my heart is full with gratitude," Emanuel said. "We've worked together. We've celebrated progress together. And we have grieved together."

But Chicago isn't exactly weeping, is it? Chicago is somewhat relieved.

He's a politician. He can read the polls. He knows what they say. The polls say goodbye.

Chicago mayors most often depart through death, or lack of votes -- never an indictment -- and what follows isn't a seamless transition.

It's always an earthquake, an explosion, a mad scramble. Desperate hands reach out to grab what they can. It all gets so tribal and ethnic. You'd think Rahm Emanuel would know this.

But he had to pull the plug. He might not have made it to the runoff. And then his Rahmulans would have no hope of holding on through someone else.

What cost him was his decision to hide that police video showing white cop Jason Van Dyke shooting black teenager Laquan McDonald 16 times, with most of the rounds penetrating the body as it lay on the ground.

Keeping the video from public view until after he'd won re-election in 2015 kept him in power. But that cost him black votes. And with the Van Dyke murder trial underway, and Emanuel fitted for the jacket if violence erupts on the streets, it was done.

Emanuel is smart. He doesn't have to raise a moistened finger to know the direction of the wind.


A mayor with nearly $10 million in campaign cash, national media and political contacts and a newspaper editorial board -- not this one -- as a wingman doesn't just walk away.

Unless he just has to. And he had to.

The mayor's decision certainly impacts upon his legislative agenda, including his plan to borrow $10 billion to shore up pension funding.

It is a plan that has been widely ridiculed by his critics, from progressive aldermen to Vallas and others, but borrowing $10 billion does have political advantages.

The fees estimated from such a deal could easily be $100 million, perhaps much, much more over the 30-year period. I'm just speculating, but is it possible that big fees on big deals generate big campaign contributions?

Now, though, by announcing he will not run for re-election, Emanuel won't be able to provide cover for his aldermen.

"A handful of us have been pushing back on this," Chicago Alderman Scott Waguespack told me Tuesday. "The mayor should pull it back. It hasn't been vetted. It's not a good deal, I don't know how his people can push this. There's a definite lack of transparency. It shouldn't be done now."

When did reason ever stop Chicago from borrowing itself into oblivion, again and again?

Emanuel's decision leaves the city with the uncertainty of a lame duck mayor. It's almost as unsettling as a mayor dying in office; the plots and coups and counter coups buzzing with the bodies still warm.


When Richard J. Daley died it was like that. With Harold Washington too.

The only time there was something of a seamless transition was when Richard M. Daley, son of boss, decided to pull the plug, and the oligarchs and alleged reformers had Rahm Emanuel installed.

It was a bait-and-switch that began, as if by pure coincidence, on the "Charlie Rose" show. Yes, that Charlie Rose. Emanuel was chief of staff to then-President Barack Obama. He told Rose he always wanted to be mayor someday.

Rich Daley would have lost re-election had he campaigned for another term. He was toast by then. And so it was done.

Emanuel found residence in Chicago and became mayor. And Bill Daley became Obama's chief of staff. But history won't repeat itself this time.

And now? Lord of the Flies.


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