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Rahm Emanuel wins Chicago mayor race

Updated: February 23, 2011 1:10AM

Rahm Emanuel was elected mayor of Chicago on Tuesday by building a coalition so broad-based, he says it empowers him to confront Chicago’s daunting problems.

“What makes this victory most gratifying is that it was built on votes from every corner of the city from people who believe that a common set of challenges must be met with a common purpose,” Emanuel told cheering fans at Plumbers Hall on the Near West Side.

His wife and three children stood with him.

“You sure know how to make a guy feel at home,” Emanuel said, now free to laugh about the residency challenge that almost kept him off the ballot.

Emanuel scored a runaway victory, taking 55 percent of the vote to Gery Chico’s 24 percent. The former White House chief of staff’s margin of victory was big enough to avoid a run-off and establish an indisputable mandate from just about every geographic and ethnic bloc in Chicago.

Emanuel won 40 wards to Chico’s 10. Emanuel won all the predominantly black wards.

Emanuel appeared to be the “consensus candidate” of the black community, garnering a larger share of the votes than former Sen. Carol Moseley Braun, who came in fourth behind City Clerk Miguel del Valle. Braun had just under 9 percent, del Valle just over 9 percent.

Braun’s collapse opened the door for Emanuel to claim the black vote and made a run-off impossible.

Chico conceded the election an hour and a half after the polls closed, saying he pledged any help Emanuel may need.

“We’ve elected a mayor tonight,” Chico said at the Westin, flanked by his wife, Sunny, and their five children. “I want with all of my heart for Rahm Emanuel to be successful as mayor of Chicago ... Our future is very, very bright — and I know Rahm will lead us in the right direction. Let’s all work together to get behind the new mayor and make this the best city on the face of the Earth.”

Emanuel’s victory, on top of victories by President Obama and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, offer further evidence that the old racial and ethnic stereotypes that have defined Chicago voting patterns for generations have waned.

“Two things are surreal: the nature of the victory and how fast it got counted. What is this California? I’ve only been gone two years. What happened?” said campaign strategist David Axelrod, who worked together with Emanuel in President Obama’s White House.

“The most important thing for the city was the multi-racial, multi-ethnic nature of this victory,” Axelrod said. “It was truly a citywide victory. To do that in one round is a remarkable feat,” Axelrod said. “There were people who doubted his strength in the African-American community, but it was real. It is much healthier for the city, and it will give him the foundation from which to attack the problems of the city.”

Emanuel rode a $12 million media blitz, a near endorsement from Obama and the full endorsement of former President Bill Clinton to a one-and-done victory over his three major rivals.

With the election now over, Emanuel can use the millions he has left on the aldermanic runoffs to help shape the new City Council to his liking. If longtime Finance Committee Chairman Edward M. Burke (14th), who supported Chico, does not cut a deal with Emanuel, his days could be numbered.

The sweeping victory gives Emanuel the mandate he needed, Axelrod said.

“The job of mayor is one that people look to for strength, leadership and larger-than-life personalities. Rahm fit the bill. He seems big enough and tough enough and strong enough to lead the city forward,” Axelrod said. “And the effort to throw him off the ballot was incredibly ill-conceived and strengthened him. It was a combination of him running a great campaign and some of the tactics employed against him that propelled his momentum.”

Emanuel said he is well-aware of the daunting task ahead of him.

“We have not won anything until a kid can go to school thinking of their studies and not their safety,” Emanuel said. “Until the parent of that child is thinking about their work and not where they’re going to find work, we have not won anything.”

In her concession speech at the Parkview Ballroom in Bronzeville, Braun said, “It is a very painful thing to lose an election, but I believe that hope springs eternal. We will continue to try to inspire people and get them engaged and involved in government.”

She thanked a supporter and mentioned how she told him minutes before the concession, “I’m really so sorry this didn’t come out better. I’m sorry if I did anything that messed it up.”

Braun’s collapse was one of the major surprises of the campaign.

She had come rolling into the new year as the “consensus black candidate” for mayor after U.S. Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.) and State Sen. James Meeks (D-Chicago) bowed out after talks brokered by the Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr.

Braun had convinced the other two that she and she alone had the backing from black business leaders needed to raise at least $1.5 million and compete with the big boys on TV.

But, a series of missteps prevented Braun from raising more than $500,000. She initially refused to release her federal income tax returns because, “I don’t want to,” only to suffer through a week of embarrassing revelations about her personal and business finances.

Even more damaging was Braun’s surprise attack against nominal rival Patricia Van Pelt-Watkins.

It happened after Watkins dared to say that Braun “hasn’t been around for 20 years” and that Watkins “did not even know the woman lived in the city” because she hadn’t heard Braun’s “voice out there on the street.”

“Patricia, the reason you do not know where I was for the last 20 years is because you were strung out on crack,” Braun said.

Watkins demanded an apology and got it a few days later. Although she has admitted to a drug problem that lasted until she was 21, she insisted she has never seen crack, let alone used it.

Chico won the Southwest Side Hispanic wards as well as the 19th Ward — Beverly — and the Northwest Side 41st Ward, both home to many firefighters and police who had endorsed Chico in part because of fear that Emanuel will cut their pensions. After Emanuel’s victory Tuesday night, the police blogs came alive with complaints.

Del Valle said he plans to continue his campaign for a “neighborhoods agenda” and he complained that Emanuel’s victory shows that, “Big money does drown out the voices of people in the neighborhoods, When you consider the low turnout that occurred, six out of 10 voters in the city of Chicago did not vote.”

From the moment Mayor Daley shocked the city with his announcement in September he would not seek re-election Emanuel held the position of frontrunner, a status that was only reinforced after Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart took a pass on the mayor’s race.

Contributing: Natasha Korecki, Frank Main and Rummana Hussain

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