He has called it his “dream job,” but ex-White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel still must run a tough political gantlet as he prepares to officially declare his candidacy for mayor of Chicago this weekend.
Mr. Emanuel’s resignation last month as President Obama’s chief of staff was just one of several surprises in the race, which began when Mayor Richard M. Daley, a Democrat, unexpectedly announced his retirement in September. He hasn’t had a serious challenger since he won the office in 1989.
A former Illinois congressman born in Chicago, Mr. Emanuel plans to make the announcement Saturday at the city’s North Side High School.
Mr. Emanuel immediately became the presumptive front-runner after resigning his White House post, but political analysts quickly questioned whether he could distance himself from the administration’s economic failures and win against a potentially deep field of candidates — including the high-profile Democratic Rep. Jesse L. Jackson Jr. and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, daughter of the state’s longtime Speaker of the House Michael J. Madigan.
Both Mr. Jackson and Ms. Madigan have been noncommittal about their plans, and Mr. Emanuel still faces a challenge in winning the black and Hispanic vote in this largely Democratic, ethnically diverse Midwestern metropolis.
A group of black leaders called the Chicago Coalition for Mayor has chosen Democratic Rep. Danny K. Davis as its candidate. In addition, state Sen. James Meeks, a black preacher, and former Democratic Sen. Carol Moseley Braun, the first black woman in the U.S. Senate, also are considering a run. Mr. Davis also is expected to officially announce his candidacy this weekend.
Gery J. Chico, a former Daley chief of staff and president of Chicago public schools, hopes to capture the Hispanic vote. He ran and lost against Mr. Obama in a 2004 Democratic primary for a U.S. Senate seat from Illinois.
Candidates must submit 12,500 valid signatures by Nov. 22 to qualify. The election is in February, but a runoff could occur if no candidate gets 50 percent of the vote.
Mr. Emanuel already has faced criticism for not specifically addressing how he would fix many of Chicago’s problems, including a projected $700 million deficit for public schools, an expensive trash-removal system and an underfunded employee pension system.
“He’s been asked but has yet to say, ‘Here’s my five-point plan,’” said Jessica Levinson, director of political reform at the nonpartisan Center for Governmental Studies. “As a voter, I would really want to know what my candidates are going to do. It’s not like Rahm’s never held office before.”
Another key question is whether Mr. Emanuel, 50, can channel some of the outside-candidate energy that helped others.
“There’s never been a loss in a candidate coming in and saying, ‘I’m going to clean up your city, your state or your federal government,” Ms. Levinson said.