Mayoral Candidates React to News Emanuel Won’t Seek Re-Election

The political bombshell was a stunning shift for candidates already prepping for the 2019 election

What to Know

  • In a last-minute press conference, the mayor revealed he would not be seeking re-election after serving since 2011
  • The mayor’s announcement takes place as Officer Jason Van Dyke’s trial begins in the Laquan McDonald case
  • Emanuel said he and his wife decided to "write another chapter together" as their three children have left for college

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel's announcement Tuesday that he won't be running for re-election marked a big change for those in the upcoming race.

The political bombshell was a stunning shift for candidates already prepping for the 2019 election. 

“Is there another shoe that’s going to drop here?” former Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy asked following the news. “If you look at the way the present mayor got into office, it was handed up to him by the previous administration, and quite obviously there were deals cut. And there probably are deals cut right now.”

Emanuel's decision comes as the upcoming mayoral race began to take shape, with potential candidates already throwing their hats into the ring, including McCarthy, who was fired by Emanuel in the wake of the release of video showing the fatal police shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald.

The mayor’s announcement took place one day before the trial begins for Officer Jason Van Dyke, who has been charged with six counts of first-degree murder following the shooting, which in part sparked a U.S. Department of Justice investigation into the Chicago Police Department. 

Emanuel's office came under scrutiny when the dashcam video of the shooting, which showed the white officer shooting the black teen 16 times as he appeared to walk away, was released a year after it happened. Some questioned whether politics played a role in the timing of the release. 

The case was poised to play a key role in the race. 

No deals were evident, at least not yet, in the wake of Emanuel’s announcement. But most of those in the already-crowded race insisted his decision will make little difference in their campaign strategies.

“It doesn’t change what we’re fighting for, and it doesn’t change the needs of people in this city,” said former Police Board chief Lori Lightfoot. “We need to guarantee quality public schools and public safety…and nothing about that sense of urgency changes because of today’s news.”

Former public schools chief Paul Vallas echoed those no-change-in-strategy comments. After all, he said, the same problems exist today that existed before the Emanuel announcement. 

“We have a murder rate that exceeds Los Angeles and New York combined,” he said. “Chicago schools have lost 70,000 students over the last decade.” 

Community activist and candidate Ja'Mal Green praised Emanuel for "finally making a decision that's in the best interest of our city."

"We've got a lot of work to do and I think the fresh faces and fresh ideas in this unprecedented Chicago mayoral race will offer Chicagoans a chance to experience a greater Chicago," he said. "Much of the credit after this announcement goes to all of those activists and organizers who hit the pavement after the Laquan McDonald video each and every day protesting downtown, protesting the mayor’s house. Hundreds of protesters took charges over the last several years fighting against this establishment. Well, today’s announcement, we attribute this success to them – all of those, even me. I took charges at the Taste of Chicago protest fighting for a new Chicago."

Cook County Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown noted the announcement came on her birthday, but she too said she has no plans to change her strategy going forward.

"Mayor Rahm Emanuel withdrawing out of this race today, does not change my strategy," she said. "I have always run for the office of mayor and for the people and not against Mayor Rahm Emanuel."

Attorney and community activist Amara Enyia, who threw her hat into the ring for a second a time, called Emanuel's announcement "a testament to the will of the people of Chicago who clearly reject his leadership."

Vallas conceded that he hoped some of the Emanuel fundraising largesse might now blow his way, but he quickly noted that he always expected to be outspent. And, he said, he still believes the election will be about more than who raises the most cash.

“Emanuel may have realized that,” he said, “which is perhaps maybe one of the reasons he decided to withdraw.”

Indeed, McCarthy, perhaps the bitterest rival in the crowded club of Emanuel rivals, suggested that many potential supporters may now emerge from the political closets. 

“It makes it easier for people who were afraid of the bullying politics of City Hall to come forward and say we’re supporting you,” he said. “I’m counting on support from people who were afraid of him, not people who were supporting him.” 

It’s a safe bet. The phone lines were humming Tuesday, among those who had been sitting on the sidelines waiting to see what Emanuel would do. 

Lightfoot said she knows that, but reminded the electorate she was already there.

“Many of us have been out here for months, making our case to Chicagoans,” she said. “Anyone who decides to jump in and take advantage of today’s political news--I think a fair question to ask them is, where have they been?”

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