Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel won a second term Tuesday in a runoff election that hinged on serious financial challenges facing the nation's third-largest city and the brusque management style of the former White House chief of staff.
Emanuel was forced to campaign furiously across the city to beat Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia after failing to capture a majority against four other candidates in a February election. The mayoral runoff was the first since the city changed the way it conducts elections in 1990s.
With nearly 90 percent of voting precincts reporting results, Emanuel had 56 percent of the vote compared to 44 percent for Garcia.
“Being mayor of the city of Chicago is the greatest job I've ever had and the greatest job in the world,” Emanuel told supporters Tuesday night. “I am humbled at the opportunity to continue to serve you, the greatest city with the greatest people, for the next four years.”
The incumbent highlighted tough decisions he's made since succeeding former Mayor Richard M. Daley in 2011, but admitted that his management approach too often rubbed city residents the wrong way. He portrayed Garcia as too inexperienced to handle a financial crunch faced by the nation's third largest city.
Many of those heading to the polls Tuesday said the election should be a signal.
“Hopefully he takes heed of the runoff when he should have been a shoo-in,” said Richard Rowe, a 50-year-old, who planned to vote for the incumbent.
Jesus Fernandez, a 44-year-old window washer who voted for Garcia, had the same view.
“If he gets close, we might push Rahm to do something,” Fernandez said. “At least we push him a little bit.”
Emanuel raised far more money than Garcia, plastered the airwaves with ads and had support from his former boss, President Barack Obama, who cast an early ballot for him from Washington.
“This is a big election with clear choices. There's a lot at stake for the city of Chicago,” Emanuel said at a campaign office the day before the election. On Tuesday, he called voters and greeted the lunch crowd at a historic Chicago diner.
Garcia, a former community organizer, alderman and state lawmaker, ran a campaign focused on the city's neighborhoods, with support from teachers and unions upset with Emanuel. He accused the mayor of being out of touch with voters and blamed him for the fiscal problems, while playing up the mayor's push to close about 50 schools and a gang-violence problem that spiked during Emanuel's first term.
He also vowed to end Chicago's red-light camera system, which some residents believe is discriminatory and focuses more on revenue than safety.
“The people had their say in Chicago,” he told supporters the day ahead of the election. “They want someone to listen to them. They said they wanted their families and their neighborhoods back and they want those things to matter to the leader of Chicago. They said they wanted change. And that's why we're in this historic runoff.”
On Tuesday, Garcia greeted commuters at train stops and volunteers in last-minute campaigning.
Both campaigns were short on specifics on how to deal with the city's underfunded pension systems, which will lead to ballooning expenditures in the year ahead. Still, business groups and executives and the city's major newspapers backed Emanuel, while Garcia enjoyed support from activists and the Rev. Jesse Jackson.
Polls put Emanuel ahead of Garcia in the weeks leading up to the runoff. But both sides pushed early voting and focused on get-out-the-vote efforts, particularly in minority neighborhoods.
Election officials said more than 142,300 Chicago voters cast early ballots for the runoff, far ahead of early turnout in February and four years ago.
The Associated Press