FEBRUARY 23, 2011—Rahm Emanuel yesterday became the first person in Chicago history to be elected mayor without ever declaring he was running.
Emanuel won in a landslide, collecting more than 70 percent of the vote while congressman Danny Davis, state senator Reverend James Meeks, former U.S. senator Carol Moseley Braun, city clerk Miguel del Valle, former school board president Gery Chico, and 15 other minority consensus candidates split the rest.
The jubilant mayor-elect told reporters he'd intended to officially announce in November. "But the polls showed our lead growing every day we didn't announce," Emanuel said. "So we figured, why fuck with a good thing?"
Emanuel quit his post as White House chief of staff on October 1 and announced in an online video message that he was preparing to run for mayor. "I'm glad to be home," he said in the message, filmed in Washington. He said he'd begin his preparation by touring Chicago "grocery stores, el stops, bowling alleys, and hot dog stands," where he'd let ordinary Chicagoans tell him "in blunt Chicago terms" how the city could be improved.
While savoring his victory last night, Emanuel allowed that the listening tour was "the hardest part of the noncampaign. I had to look people in the eye and nod sympathetically while they told me the most stupid fucking things. It was a motherfucker to stay awake. Now that I'm no longer not running, I can finally say it: The only thing I learned from the average joe is he's called average for a reason."
Known as a brilliant strategist even before this election, Emanuel said he'd theorized that people prefer the humility of noncandidates. Not declaring also saved him the trouble of developing a platform for solving Chicago's problems. "As soon as you suggest solutions, people start poking fucking holes in them," he said.
Emanuel racked up a Chicago record $100 million in noncampaign contributions, some of which he spent on noncampaign ads in which he discussed Chicago's weather and sports teams and how much President Obama liked him.
Asked by reporters how he planned to deal with the city's huge budget deficit, rising unemployment, and troubled school system, Emanuel was noncommittal, and vowed to remain so as long as possible. He said he'd begin his first term as mayor by going on a listening tour of aldermen.
During the raucous celebration at his noncampaign headquarters in Winnetka, Emanuel thanked his cheering supporters for never disbelieving in him. The crowd roared when he pointed out he'd be the only elected mayor not to break a single campaign promise. If things went well during the next four years, he added, he expected he would also not seek a second term.