I met Tom Dart for the first time last week in the Green Room of a national television station.
He was there to talk about foreclosures. As he rose from the makeup chair, I shook his hand and told him I was looking forward to interviewing him for the Ward Room.
“That’ll be great,” he said.
After his interview, a reporter asked him whether he planned to run for mayor.
“I’m just focused on my re-election as sheriff,” he said. “Plus, I’ve got to think about whether I can do this with five kids, all under the age of nine.”
That’s what all politicians say when they’re running for office. We rode the elevator downstairs together -- he didn’t have any deputies with him -- and I told him my foreclosure story. My friend Steve lost his condo in Rolling Meadows last year; I let him crash in my spare bedroom all winter, until he could get back on his feet.
“We’re going to places we’ve never gone before,” Dart said. “We’ve been out to Barrington.”
As the sheriff ran off, presumably towards a waiting car, I thought, there goes the next mayor of Chicago. Why else would he have appeared on national TV?
So much for my forecasting skills. Wednesday, Dart announced that he wouldn’t run for mayor for all the reasons that would have made him a good mayor: he wants to spend time with his family, and he doesn’t think it’s right to campaign without leaving his post as sheriff.
That leaves Rahm Emanuel as the biggest name in the race, and the now even-money favorite to become the next mayor.
Emanuel was always a lock to make the runoff, but now he’s got a chance to win on Feb. 22. If he doesn’t, he may end up facing Carol Moseley Braun or James Meeks, the finalists in the black community’s search for a consensus candidate. Either of them will have far more difficulty appealing to the “Anyone But Rahm” crowd than Tom Dart. Emanuel, who just looked like Evil when he entered the race, may end up becoming The Lesser of Two Evils.
Or, Dart’s defection may create an opening for another big name to enter the race. Today’s announcement gives a last-minute candidate time to gather petitions.
An open mayor’s race is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Dart is young now, but he may be a senior citizen by the time his next chance comes around.