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Richard Daley Bows Out for 2011 — Is Rahm In?

Rahm Emanuel now has a new topic for introspection—and it comes just in time for Rosh Hashana. Could he become Chicago’s first Jewish mayor?

Richard Daley, Chicago’s mayor since 1989, announced today that he won’t seek reelection. “I have always believed that every person, especially public officials must understand when it is time to move on,” he announced at City Hall, according to the Sun-Times. “For me that time is now.”

Chicago, obviously, is close to the hearts of many in the White House. Barack Obama found his political stride there. Michelle Obama grew up there. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan served as CEO of Chicago’s public schools before Obama tapped him for the national gig. And Emanuel, Obama’s chief of staff, was born in Chicago; campaigned for a congressman in Chicago; and attended synagogue there. He was also a senior advisor for Daley’s 1989 campaign.

While the Sun-Times reports that local politicians are considering throwing their hats in the ring, Emanuel has made no secret of his mayoral aspirations: “One day I would like to run for mayor of the city of Chicago,” he said on Charlie Rose’s talk show. He said he’s kept his eye on that post since his days in congress.

After 21 years of a Daley reign, Emanuel may have his opening—though he has, as of yet, been cagey about his intents. Or maybe he hasn’t figured it out yet. In a statement Emanuel said:

While Mayor Daley surprised me today with his decision to not run for reelection, I have never been surprised by his leadership, dedication and tireless work on behalf of the city and the people of Chicago.

Meanwhile, Washington Post’s political blog quotes a senior Obama official who says he’d be surprised if Emanuel didn’t run.

But can he win? Don Rose, a Chicago political consultant, isn’t so sure. “I believe that Rahm Emanuel would have a very difficult race against [Cook Country Sheriff] Tom Dart,” he told the Forward, because “he is the hottest political property in the state, other than Lisa Madigan. He has a broader base.”

Though Chicago has never had any Jewish mayors, the city once came close: Bernard Epton campaigned against Harold Washington, Chicago’s first black mayor, in 1983. “He was considered to be quite a liberal, bright, well-thought-out candidate,” said Jerry Mayeroff, a life-long Chicagoan who runs the marketing business Mayeroff and Associates. “However, it deteriorated into a racially-tinged race. Epton was white, and running against Chicago’s first black mayor. He picked up lots of openly racist support, although no one would have accused him of being racist.”

Likewise, Mayeroff guesses that the next mayoral campaign will be more determined than race or ethnicity than by religion. “There are many different constituencies who want to be served in the next election—Jewish is not one of them. It’s not relevant,” he said. “A white candidate, whether he’s Jewish or not, it doesn’t make a real big difference. There is a strong Jewish population in at least one part of the city, but the numbers aren’t really significant.”

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