Updated 02/23/11 – 5:18 a.m.
CHICAGO (CBS) – Rahm Emanuel coasted to victory in the race for mayor of Chicago on Tuesday, easily defeating five opponents to take over for the retiring Richard M. Daley, whom he called “an impossible act to follow.”
With 99 percent of the precincts reporting, Emanuel had 55 percent of the vote, more than double his closest rival, former Chicago Board of Education president Gery Chico, who had about 24 percent. By taking more than 50 percent of the vote, Emanuel avoided a one-on-one runoff election in April with the number two candidate.
Former U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley Braun and Chicago City Clerk Miguel del Valle both had about 9 percent of the vote, while Patricia Van Pelt Watkins had 1.6 percent and William “Dock” Walls had less than 1 percent.
In his victory speech Tuesday night, Emanuel called his win a “humbling victory.”
“While this election was hard-fought, it was only the beginning,” Emanuel said. “We have not won anything until a kid can go to school thinking of their studies and not their safety.”
“Until the parents of that child (are) thinking about their work and not where they’re going to find work, we have not won anything,” Emanuel added.
Emanuel also praised Daley, the man whose seat he will be taking on the fifth floor of City Hall.
“Nobody has ever loved Chicago more or served it with greater passion or commitment,” Emanuel said of Daley. “This city bears his imprint and he has earned a special place in our hearts and our history.”
“Rich Daley is the only mayor a whole generation of Chicagoans has known and let’s be honest, it’s an impossible act to follow,” Emanuel added.
Earlier in the evening, Chico said he called Emanuel and offered to help his administration in any way he could.
“I pledged to mayor elect Rahm Emanuel my full support for whatever he needs to take our city in the direction he will take it,” Chico said. “And I meant every word I said. Whatever he needs me to do, I’m a phone call away.”
“I want with all of my heart for Rahm Emanuel to be successful,” Chico added. “Our future is very, very bright. … and I know that Rahm will take us in the right direction.”
Del Valle urged Emanuel to focus on improving Chicago’s neighborhood when he takes office as mayor in May.
“I congratulate him, he won a solid victory. But now he must govern the city of Chicago,” del Valle said.
Del Valle also urged his supporters to continue pushing for government reform in Chicago.
“It really is up to us to hold government accountable,” del Valle said. “Without activism, without community organizing, without aggressive advocacy, without strong voices, it won’t happen. And Chicago is ready for reform.”
Braun also congratulated Emanuel, saying she wished him “all the success” when he takes office.
“We gave it our best,” Braun said. “We will continue to try to inspire people, to get them engaged in government.”
It was the city’s first mayoral race in more than 60 years without an incumbent on the ballot and the first in more than two decades without Daley among the candidates. Daley and his father have led Chicago for more than 43 out of the last 56 years.
The campaign began last fall when Daley — with an ailing wife, six terms under his belt and a future of looming fiscal challenges — announced he would not seek re-election.
Emanuel, a 51-year-old married father of three, will be the city’s first Jewish mayor, and he brings a wealth of political and government experience.
A well-known figure in national Democratic politics, he worked for two presidents and served three terms representing the North Side in the House of Representatives.
Emanuel had just been elected to his fourth term in 2008, when he resigned to work for fellow Chicagoan President Barack Obama. It was a job he held until he resigned in October 2010 to run for Chicago mayor.
But the White House wasn’t new to Emanuel because he had worked as a top aide to Bill Clinton.
During his time in Congress, Emanuel also served as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and was credited with leading Democrats to victory in 2006, when they won the majority in the House after a dozen years in the minority.
The new mayor faces a daunting series of challengers, including fixing the city’s finances, addressing underfunded employee pensions and confronting a shrinking urban population.
The new mayor will have to decide quickly on a politically unpalatable strategy for improving city finances that may involve raising taxes and cutting services and public employee benefits.
Daley has been criticized for allowing the city to spend beyond its means, and Chicago was not spared the pain of the economic downturn of the last few years.
The city’s inspector general’s office warned in October that Chicago’s annual deficit was effectively more than $1 billion annually when combining recent budget deficits with the spending increases the city would need to properly fund its pension system.
The new mayor will also have to find new leadership for the Chicago Public Schools and a new police superintendent. All the candidates have talked about wanting to replace Jody Weis with someone who has a stronger focus on neighborhood policing.
Emanuel’s win capped off a campaign that included an unsuccessful legal challenge to try to knock him off the ballot.
More than two dozen objectors contended that Emanuel wasn’t eligible to run for mayor because he didn’t meet the city’s one-year residency requirement.
Emanuel had lived in Washington for nearly two years while he worked for President Barack Obama and his family had rented out their Chicago home to join him. Emanuel moved back to Chicago in October after Daley announced he wouldn’t seek a seventh term.
The matter went all the way to the Illinois Supreme Court, which overturned a lower-court ruling that threw Emanuel off the ballot.
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