By MARK GUARINO | Christian Science Monitor Staff Writer
Chicago — Rahm Emanuel made his candidacy in the mayor of Chicago official Saturday during a speech at a North Side elementary school gymnasium in which he emphasized his local roots, an issue that has already been a target among his opposition.
“Chicago is where I was born and where my children were raised. They are the fourth generation of my family to live here,” said the former White House Chief of Staff. “Only the opportunity to help President Obama … could have pried me away.”
Mr. Emanuel spent five weeks on a self-proclaimed “listening tour” in which he visited “L” stops during morning and afternoon commutes, and he shook hands at senior centers, bowling alleys, and schools throughout the city. Despite not officially announcing his candidacy until Saturday, he has been treated like a front-runner against the competition, although his lead has shrunk since he began campaigning.
The moment current Mayor Richard M. Daley announced he would not seek reelection, dozens of local aldermen, political and community leaders jumped into the candidate pool.
Two strong candidates dropped out
Local favorites Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart and US Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. were both expected to be strong contenders, but both dropped out in recent weeks. That left remaining challengers, including former Daley chief of staff Gery Chico, complaining that Emanuel’s name recognition and considerable fundraising ability – not the will of Chicagoans – made him frontrunner.
Emanuel’s announcement was carefully orchestrated to emphasize his deep connections with the city, especially with black and Latino leaders.
On the podium behind him were more than 20 residents handpicked from across the city whom Emanuel had met during his listening tour. His speech emphasized his early childhood in Albany Park, an ethnically diverse neighborhood on the Northwest Side. His wife, son, and two daughters joined him onstage. A few feet away sat his parents.
Besides Chico, Emanuel faces competition from US Rep. Danny Davis, former US Sen. Carol Moseley Braun and City Clerk Miguel del Valle. The election takes place Feb. 22.
In the three months leading up to the election, Emanuel said he would make three policy speeches covering education, crime, and finances. He pledged not to raises taxes in the near future but suggested that the city’s $655 million budget deficit will need to be addressed by facing “structural problems” at city hall.
“Our first responsibility is to make the tough choices that have been avoided too long because of politics and inertia,” he said.
Emanuel pledges to address corruption
Emanuel received the greatest applause when he suggested he would address corruption regarding the awarding of city contracts as well as city hall’s notorious lack of transparency when it comes to its TIF (tax increment financing) spending.
“Government can no longer be an insider’s game, serving primarily the lobbyists and well connected,” he said.
Outside the school, about a dozen protestors armed with signs and a megaphone railed against Emanuel, saying he represented the same corrupt forces that are associated with city and state politics here.
In particular, protestors complained that as a former board member of Freddie Mac (the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation), he is connected to the scandal that involved misreporting profits by billions of dollars between 2000 and 2002.
“We have had enough corruption at city hall,” said Lora Chamberlain of Chicago. “We don’t want another Blagojevich. We don’t want another Daley.”