Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel (D) won’t run for reelection, he announced in a surprise press conference Tuesday morning.
“This has been the job of a lifetime but it is not a job for a lifetime,” he said.
The decision comes after a tumultuous two terms as mayor for the former Democratic congressman and powerhouse operative in which he drew sharp criticism for his handling of race relations, education and policing.
Emanuel faced especially pointed criticism from all sides for his handling of the fatal 2014 police shooting of Laquan McDonald and the subsequent attempt at a cover-up by the department.
The killing enraged many in the city’s black community who had already been furious over Emanuel’s handling of other police violence in the city as well as his decision to shutter schools in a number of black-majority neighborhoods earlier in his tenure.
His subsequent decision to fire Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy after the attempted cover-up was revealed had subsequently enraged the city’s police union.
A number of recent polls had suggested Emanuel was in for a tough reelection fight next year. McCarthy had already announced he would challenge Emanuel from the right. Lori Lightfoot, who had been appointed by Emanuel to an independent board to review the McDonald shooting, former Chicago Public Schools head Paul Vallas and wealthy businessman Willie Wilson were also already in the race, as are eight other candidates. A number of other politicians were seriously weighing bids against him from the left, and his retirement may further open the floodgates for more candidates ahead of the 2019 election.
Emanuel’s decision to retire may mark the end of a decades-long political career in which he served as a top adviser for President Clinton and later, as a congressman, helped engineer Democrats’ 2006 House takeover, before becoming President Obama’s chief of staff. Emanuel long fought for a pro-business, more moderate Democratic Party that welcomed pro-life and pro-gun candidates — the opposite direction from where the party is headed now.