While White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel is lionized in Washington, he would not start a mayoral race in Chicago automatically first in line to replace Mayor Daley.
Emanuel has said he would likely run if Daley did not -- but he was caught by surprise Tuesday as was everyone else when Daley said he was moving on. "While Mayor Daley surprised me today with his decision to not run for re-election, I have never been surprised by his leadership, dedication and tireless work on behalf of the city and the people of Chicago," Emanuel said in a statement that did not show his hand.
White House senior adviser David Axelrod told me he and Emanuel were absorbing the blockbuster news Tuesday. "I know he is very, very consumed right now with his work here." As for an Emanuel mayoral run, Axelrod said, "I don't know whether Rahm is contemplating that."
Emanuel has a million dollars in his campaign fund and formidable fund-raising ability, giving him a running start against rivals -- if he jumps in the contest. Emanuel, a former House member from a district anchored on the North Side, is without a solid political base in Chicago. The unions and other progressives are mad at him over national issues that would seep into a mayoral contest.
Emanuel would have to do a lot of work to get Democratic committeemen to unite around his candidacy -- but he knows a thing or two about coalition building.
Daley's early announcement that he won't seek re-election means Emanuel would have to consider whether to leave President Obama before the November mid-term elections to campaign for the 2011 City Hall primary next February -- bad timing for the Obama administration. Emanuel will have to decide or send a signal fairly soon -- mayoral candidates have to file at least 12,500 valid signatures by Nov. 22.
By chance, I was a few blocks from City Hall when Daley made his announcement and arrived there as the shock waves were bouncing through the City Council chamber and adjacent corridors. I asked Ald. Pat Levar -- who is also the 45th Ward committeeman, or local party boss -- about Emanuel. Emanuel's House district included parts of Levar's ward. "He knows how to bring people together," Levar said in praise.
Would he back Emanuel? "As a committeeman, I have to be very cautious on what I am going to do," Levar said.
If Emanuel ran, he would have to navigate through the city's tribal politics, where African Americans, Hispanics and white ethnic powerbrokers will be, at least in this early stage, looking for one of their own.
Ald. Ed Smith -- who is also the 28th Ward committeeman -- said, "Just because he works in the White House does not mean [Emanuel] has a key to the mayor's office."
Ald. Bernard Stone's (50th) North Side ward is heavily Jewish, presumably a place where Emanuel would hunt for votes. (He would be the city's first Jewish mayor.) But Stone was downbeat about Emanuel. "He doesn't have the experience and the know-how. .... Rahm is a strong arm ... and I am not looking for a strong-arm mayor."
Emanuel already gave up a chance to be House speaker to answer Obama's call. Mayoral openings are rare. He's sacrificed once for Obama -- but twice? In Chicago, it's better to be mayor than White House chief of staff.