Who Will Fill Chicago’s Post-Daley Power Vacuum?

Leanna Burton

By Leanna Burton After 21 years in office, Mayor Richard M. Daley is stepping down. Last week, the mayor flatly announced he will not be seeking a seventh term as mayor of Chicago, saying that “it’s time for Chicago to move on.” Daley's abdication (he's long been more king than mayor here) creates a massive power vacuum. The question is, who will fill it and claim the title of Chicago’s 55th mayor? (Of course, it may be that no one will ever again wield mayoral power as Daley and his father, Richard J. Daley, did during the last 55 years.) Many aldermen and officials have previously expressed interest in running, but opted out, fearing Daley’s wrath. Now potential candidates are testing the electoral waters in a surge of interviews and press conferences. Here's a look at potential candidates for February’s election. The list is considerable, but by no means comprehensive. This will be Chicago's most crowded mayoral campaign in decades—and perhaps the most racially divisive, as a recent Chicago Tribune article suggested. Here's the list of Daley’s potential successors, listed in order of popularity according to a recent Chicago Sun-Times poll. Rahm Emanuel Chicago native, current White House Chief of Staff and former member of the U.S. House of Representatives, Emanuel seems to be a likely candidate to replace Daley and become the windy city’s first Jewish mayor. Emanuel has received support from numerous White House officials, including the president himself. Crain’s Greg Hinz even a called him “a superb fundraiser, one with national connections who likely would pull in $10 million in a couple of months." This support, paired with Emanuel’s ties with the Daley Administration (he served as finance chairman during Daley’s initial campaign), are sure to make him a virtual shoo-in for the position, but Emanuel’s checkered past with progressives and disdain for liberal activists might pose a problem for his candidacy. Cook County Sheriff Thomas Dart Named one of Time Magazine's 100 most influential people in the world, Dart has gained recognition for his (http://www.cookcountysheriff.org/sheriffs_bio/sheriff_bio.html crusades against crime, grave robbers and Chicago slumlords. Dart has previously refused to run for governor because of his aspirations to run for mayor of Chicago. In spite of Dart’s aspirations and accomplishments, his potential bid for mayor might conflict with his pending re-election as Cook County Sheriff. Sen. James Meeks In a poll taken for the Chicago Sun -Times, Meeks was second to Tom Dart in most likely mayoral candidates. An Illinois state senator, Meeks is also an active Baptist minister in Chicago and chair of the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus. Meek’s radical political and social beliefs are likely to gain him an edge among the Black community, but are just as likely to alienate him among middle-class whites. Rep. Luis Gutierrez In a Sept 9th statement, U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez announced his interest in running for mayor of Chicago. Gutierrez considered opposing Daley in 2006, but instead decided to remain in Congress. His stance on national IDs is sure to noticeably divide votes during his candidacy. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. Son of activist and former presidential candidate Jesse Jackson, Jackson Jr. has criticized Rahm Emanuel as a potential mayoral candidate, claiming that his candidacy would turn Chicago’s mayoral election into a higher-profile examination of the Obama Administration. But he has not explicitly stated an interest in taking Daley’s place as mayor. Attorney General Lisa Madigan In July 2009, Madigan had the opportunity to run for impeached Ill. Governor Rod Blagojevich's post and campaign for President Obama’s former Senate seat (a special election to replace tainted current occupant Roland Burris will occur in November). She decided to do neither, and seek re-election as attorney general. Madigan has not yet announced her acceptance or denial of this similar opportunity, but if she takes it, Madigan could potentially take the majority of minority/female votes and possibly become Chicago’s second female mayor. City Colleges Board Chairman Gery Chico Chico is a former chief of staff for the Daley Administration. With a background in politics and education, he seems to have an edge from the prospective of educators. Daley hired Chico as leader of the city college’s board, a position that has sparked ambivalence among educators and officials alike. If Chico decides to run, many voters will be faced with the dilemma of deciding if his demonstration as CCC board chairman is enough to elect him as Daley’s replacement.

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Democratic Rep. Summer Lee, who at the time was a candidate for the state House, at a demonstration in Pittsburgh for Antwon Rose, who was killed by police, in 2018. Lee recently defeated her 2024 primary challenger.
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