DOWNTOWN — Rahm Emanuel wanted a walk-off victory but got a runoff instead.
The election for the top job in Chicago is headed to overtime, as the mayor didn't reach the more than 50 percent threshold needed to avoid a runoff.
Instead, Emanuel and Cook County Commissioner Jesus "Chuy" Garcia are headed for a runoff election on April 7.
With 97 percent of the vote in, Emanuel had 45.36 percent of the vote, and Garcia had 33.93 percent in the election, which drew a low turnout of about 33 percent.
It's a disappointment for a nationally known, incumbent mayor who out-fundraised and out-spent his opponents, and basked in an 11th hour visit from President Barack Obama, whom Emanuel served as White House chief of staff.
Garcia capitalized on the issues that Emanuel battled during his first term: a murder spike, a teachers strike and the closure of dozens of schools in minority neighborhoods. Indeed, Garcia got into the race at the urging of Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis, who had to bow out after being diagnosed with a brain tumor as she geared up for her own run against Emanuel, whom she has publicly feuded with for years.
Emanuel called Garcia "a good man" and told supporters at Plumbers Hall in the West Loop, "I look forward to debating the issues in the weeks ahead."
He described Chicago as a city of different ideas and approaches, but he added "We all share the same values" — "a fair shot for everybody."
Emanuel told supporters to "take a moment to celebrate what we've accomplished in four years."
On Wednesday, though, he said his campaign was "going to double down."
Garcia was more direct in his Election Night address, attacking Emanuel as being more interested in the wealthy and in special interests than in common people.
"They've had their say for too long," Garcia said, warning, "They're not going to give up easy."
At Alhambra Palace on the Near West Side, Garcia declared, "We're sick and tired of being sick and tired," and thanked a number of working-class groups and unions, describing them as "the people who made this city great."
"We want change. We're going to change it together," he said, calling for "a new Chicago."
Emanuel was well-armed financially, building a campaign war chest estimated at $30 million. He raised $15 million for this election and spent about $7 million on TV commercials.
Garcia, 58, a former alderman who raised about $1.3 million, only launched a TV campaign two weeks ago, spending about $600,000 on the advertisements.
In them, Garcia, whose father came to Chicago from Mexico in the 1940s to work in a cold storage facility, criticized the incumbent as favoring the wealthy through tax incentives for developers.
In the TV ad, Garcia said, "If there's enough money to keep them happy, there ought to be enough to keep us safe," vowing to add 1,000 police officers to the street.
He told supporters after the results were in that "nobody thought we'd be here tonight."
"They spent millions attacking us. Well, we're still standing. We're still running. And we're going to win," Garcia said.
Also running were millionaire Willie Wilson, who came in third, barely breaking the double-digit mark; 2nd Ward Ald. Bob Fioretti and businessman and perennial candidate William "Dock" Walls, both of whom attracted support in the single digits.
Wilson, however, took credit for helping to force a runoff. He spent about $2 million of his own money and took to TV early to pump up his candidacy.
Emanuel supporter Rep. Luis Gutierrez told reporters, "We are prepared to win any runoff."
On Tuesday, the 55-year-old Emanuel told reporters he had "butterflies" and worked some phone banks in the predominantly African American 8th Ward.
In his re-election bid, Emanuel was criticized for decisions he made in his first term, including his School Board's decision to close 50 schools. He also faced questions about the city's murder spike in 2012 and into 2013.
Garcia, a Little Village resident, criticized the Emanuel-appointed Chicago Board of Education for failing to address a federal discrimination suit. He and Fioretti led opposition to red-light and speed cameras, an issue embraced by all the challengers.
Bolstered by Obama four years ago, Emanuel, a Ravenswood resident, looked again to the president for a boost from African-American voters to get him over 50 percent, hosting Obama in the closing days of the campaign last week.
Chicago Forward, a so-called super political action committee affiliated with the mayor, funded campaigns backing his City Council supporters and attacking his top antagonists in the Progressive Reform Caucus, but in the end also attacked his mayoral opponents.
Wilson would not say who he now supports in the runoff, but told supporter last night he looked forward to meeting with Garcia.
"Major corporations should not run our city," he said.
Check out our full 2015 Aldermanic Election Guide for more info on the candidates in this and other ward races.
Since Chicago ended the primary system in 1999 under Mayor Richard M. Daley and went to a municipal election requiring that a candidate win by a majority, no mayor has faced a runoff. Daley coasted to re-election each time he sought it, and Emanuel won the open seat upon Daley's retirement four years ago with 55.3 percent of the vote.
Emanuel topped five opponents in his first mayoral race, one more than he's facing as he seeks re-election.
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