- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 7, 2010

CHICAGO | Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, who like his father before him has presided over the nation’s third-largest city for 21 years, announced Tuesday that he will not run for a seventh term in February, saying the time “just feels right.”

Mr. Daley, 68, said he had been thinking about not running for several months and became comfortable with his decision over the past several weeks.

“It just feels right,” he said at a news conference, his smiling wife Maggie standing by his side. “I’ve always believed that every person, especially public officials, must understand when it’s time to move on.”

The move could have repercussions in the West Wing of the Obama White House, as Rahm Emanuel, Mr. Obama’s chief of staff and a former congressman from Chicago, has talked openly of his interest in running for mayor should Mr. Daley ever step down.

Mr. Emanuel said he did not know of the mayor’s decision, but offered no hints in a statement of his own future plans.

“While Mayor Daley surprised me today with his decision to not run for re-election, I have never been surprised by his leadership, dedication and tireless work on behalf of the city and the people of Chicago,” Mr. Emanuel said.

The mayor called the announcement “a personal decision, no more, no less” and said he and his family now begin a “new phase of our lives.”

The announcement was made with little warning, but was not a surprise to everyone.

Mr. Daley had refused to say whether he would run again, fueling speculation that he might not, and his wife has been battling cancer.

“It’s a surprise because there’s been a Daley in the political system for so long,” said Alan Gitelson, a Loyola University of Chicago political science professor. “There’s always been this presence. It’s been really part and parcel of the identity of the city to have a Daley in the mayor’s office.”

Mr. Daley was first elected mayor in 1989, following in the footsteps of his father, Richard J. Daley, who died of a heart attack in 1976 at age 74 during his 21st year in office.

Cook County Clerk David Orr said he did not think anyone would have seriously challenged Mr. Daley if he had run for re-election, but Tuesday’s announcement means “the whole political landscape changes enormously.”

“All of a sudden now, many of the political people will be focused on the mayor’s seat. February is so close,” Mr. Orr told WBBM radio in Chicago. “There’s going to be a lot of scheming and planning going on.”

The 50-year-old Mr. Emanuel is a one-time Daley adviser and a Chicago native. After he expressed an interest in the job in an April television interview, Mr. Daley said the two are friends but didn’t endorse Mr. Emanuel as his heir apparent.

“I think there are many people out there who would be great mayors,” Mr. Daley said.

Others whose names have surfaced as possible candidates are Democratic U.S. Reps. Jesse L. Jackson Jr. and Luis V. Gutierrez, and Chicago Alderman Bob Fioretti, although Mr. Jackson’s hopes have been hurt after his name surfaced in the corruption trial of ousted Democratic Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich.

During his tenure, Mr. Daley presided over some of the most dramatic changes in Chicago history.

He assumed command of the floundering school system in 1995 and replaced entrenched bureaucrats with tough, results-oriented administrators. Homework became mandatory, and the “social promotion” of underperforming students was halted. Test scores climbed steadily.

Mr. Daley also was the catalyst for a citywide face-lift. West Side slums were cleared, new green space was created, a theater district came to life in the north Loop, and Navy Pier became a colorful playground, complete with boat rides and a giant Ferris wheel.

Critics have grumbled that in some ways Mr. Daley’s Chicago was run much as it had been under his father, who was the boss of Chicago’s Democratic machine for two decades. They pointed to City Hall scandals and lucrative contracts for the mayor’s friends, as well as chronic corruption and police-brutality cases.