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Analysis: If Emanuel is kept off ballot, Chico looks like the man

Gery Chico offers his reactiMonday January 24 2011 Illinois Appellate Court's decisiMonday remove Rahm Emanuel from ballot. | Jean Lachat~Sun-Times

Gery Chico offers his reaction Monday, January 24, 2011, to the Illinois Appellate Court's decision Monday to remove Rahm Emanuel from the ballot. | Jean Lachat~Sun-Times

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Updated: April 30, 2011 4:46AM

If the Illinois Supreme Court fails to overturn Monday’s stunning ruling or refuses to even hear the residency case against Rahm Emanuel, Chicago’s topsy-turvy race for mayor could have a new frontrunner.

His name is Gery Chico.

Democratic ward bosses from across the city said Chico is the likely beneficiary if fund-raising heavyweight Emanuel remains off the ballot.

As an all-purpose mayoral trouble-shooter who has served Mayor Daley as chief-of-staff, school board president, park board president and City Colleges board chairman, Chico is the natural second-choice for a business establishment that has rallied around Emanuel.

The business community craves nothing more than stability. In a field that includes Chico, former U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley Braun and retiring City Clerk Miguel del Valle, Chico would likely be their second-choice.

He might even see an immediate surge of campaign contributions from business leaders determined to protect their flanks. Chico has so far raised $2.5 million to Emanuel’s $11.7 million and Braun’s $450,000.

“If you were for Rahm, he’s kind of a business-like person who can get things done. Gery is a similar personality. He’s more like Rahm than Carol is like Rahm. More people in Rahm’s camp would default to him than to Carol,” said one Democratic ward boss, who asked to remain anonymous.

Braun is conceding nothing. She hopes to inherit black and independent white votes that might have gone to President Obama’s former White House chief of staff.

After appealing to Emanuel supporters and undecided voters to join her “little United Nations” of a campaign. Braun staked a claim to business support.

“I’m hopeful that the business community will recognize how hard I worked for them when I was United States senator and the relationships that I can bring — that I can continue to move this city in the direction of being a world-class city,” she said.

“It’s not like I’m a stranger to these people. I’ve worked for them and I’ve delivered for them as senator, and I look forward to the opportunity to work with them again.”

If Emanuel remains ineligible, Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce President Jerry Roper predicted that business leaders would line up behind “the person who has the best track record of working in this city” — and that person is Chico.

“Carol is a small business person and an entrepreneur. But, I would expect the vast majority of the business community to gravitate toward Chico. He was in the [Daley] administration. He understands the inner workings to make some of the changes take place. Carol has a different approach. Gery would seem to have the edge,” said Roper, whose board has not yet taken sides in the mayor’s race.

Business support is not the only thing up for grabs. So is the support of Democratic ward bosses who have either pledged their loyalty to Emanuel or remained on the fence.

Until Monday’s ruling, Ald. Mike Zalewski (23rd), the City Council’s president pro temp, said he was inclined to remain neutral in the mayor’s race and concentrate on his own aldermanic election.

But, now that Emanuel has been thrown off the ballot, Zalewski said the 23rd Ward Regular Democratic Organization he serves as committeeman is likely to endorse Chico.

“This will weigh heavily on my decision. It’s really rocked the landscape,” Zalewski said of Monday’s ruling.

“A lot of arrows are pointing toward Chico in my part of town. He got the police [union] endorsement. We’re getting a lot of calls from people asking for Chico’s signs and literature. He’s the biggest beneficiary of this ruling.”

Ald. Pat O’Connor (40th), Daley’s City Council floor leader, is among a handful of North Side ward bosses firmly in Emanuel’s camp.

O’Connor said he plans to stick with Emanuel “until it’s determined he can no longer be a mayoral candidate,” then “reassess and see who’ll have us.”

If Chico inherits much of Emanuel’s support, pressure would intensify for del Valle to drop out of the race. But, the retiring City Clerk bristled at the suggestion that he should throw his support to Chico, the only other Hispanic in the race.

“I am a candidate who has a lot to offer. Why should [I]? It never crossed my mind. Not at all,” del Valle said.

“This election is a wonderful opportunity to present voters with real choices. Why would I deny [them] that? That’s why I thought the residency issue was a distraction and that voters should have choices, including Rahm Emanuel.”

Asked Monday if he considers himself the new frontrunner, Chico said, “I mean — I’m running. I’m trying to get every vote I can from everybody in this city. ... From Day One, I was in this race [and] the biggest names in Illinois political history have come through this race. I just never paid that much attention to it.”

Contributing: Kara Spak

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