WEST LOOP — Rahm Emanuel has been re-elected in the city's first mayoral runoff election, defeating a challenge from Cook County Commissioner Jesus "Chuy" Garcia.
With 93 percent of precincts reporting, the Board of Election Commissioners reported that Emanuel had 55.5 percent of the vote and Garcia 44.5 percent.
"Thank you, Chicago," Emanuel told supporters at the Plumbers Union Hall. "Thank you for putting me through my paces. I will be a better mayor because of that." He pledged to "bridge the gaps" dividing the city's electorate.
Emanuel called being mayor "the greatest job I've ever had and the greatest job in the world."
He added, "We are the city that works, and it has to work for everyone."
Moments earlier, Garcia sounded the same theme at the University of Illinois at Chicago Forum, saying, "You want a city that works for everyone, and I mean everyone."
Speaking to supporters, Garcia said, "We didn't lose today. We tried today. We fought hard for what we believed in."
Emanuel called his opponent "a good man who clearly loves the city of Chicago" and noted that Garcia, as an immigrant, "represents the promise of Chicago."
Emanuel said his second term will be an important one. "The decisions of the next four years will affect Chicago over the next 40 years," he said.
The turnout was larger than expected, with estimates above 40 percent, after just 34 percent of registered voters took part in the Feb. 24 election. Emanuel topped his vote total from Feb. 24 with 30 percent of precincts still out.
Emanuel led Garcia in most African-Americans wards on the South and West Sides, with Garcia gaining his strength from Hispanic wards and the Northwest Side. Yet Emanuel's main strength remained in lakefront wards 42 and 43, where he hit 84 percent in early returns, while earning 75 percent in Lakeview's 44th Ward.
The two candidates staged a bruising if rarely bitter campaign for six weeks after Emanuel failed to amass a majority of votes on Feb. 24, finishing with 45.6 percent of the vote to Garcia's 33.6 percent. That sent the two into a runoff, with Willie Wilson, Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd) and William "Dock" Walls as also-rans.
Their three head-to-head televised debates rolled back and forth in momentum. In the first, Emanuel clipped Garcia early with a reference to how he had voted for a holiday in pension payments while a state senator, although Garcia was the aggressor after that.
In the second, Garcia held the initiative throughout, at one point telling the mayor, "You are not the king of the city," and accusing him of governing by "fiat" in parceling out public property for the proposed Lucas Museum and Obama Presidential Library.
In the third, however, Emanuel struck back, using some Jewish humor to call Garcia a "Hanukkah Harry" for promising things he couldn't deliver, and deflecting an accusation that he had helped bring on the Great Recession by saying, "Single-handedly, I ushered in the recession. Only you and my mother think that."
Through it all, Emanuel emphasized his steady stewardship, balancing four budgets without a hike in sales, gas or property taxes. He tried to disarm critics of his sometimes imperious management style by allowing "I own that" in a campaign ad, but adding that no one would fight harder for the city.
Ted Cox breaks down Mayor Emanuel's victory:
At first a seemingly reluctant candidate, Garcia was energized by his runner-up finish in the Feb. 24 election and after that presented himself as the standard bearer of progressive politics, campaigning on a platform of strengthened neighborhoods through more engagement with voters.
Emanuel called Garcia "a good man" early in the campaign, and neither indulged directly in personal attacks against the other, although Garcia did accuse Emanuel of "pay to play" politics as a result of the estimated $20 million campaign war chest the mayor amassed through campaign contributions.
Emanuel, meanwhile, questioned whether Garcia had the executive experience to lead the city. And while he tended to avoid criticizing Garcia directly, his TV ads and direct mail were more vicious, including pieces paid for by the Chicago Forward super political action committee aligned with his campaign.
Yet the campaign was conducted largely on the issues. Garcia tried to score points on the overwhelming public support for an elected school board. He also promised to fulfill Emanuel's campaign pledge of four years ago to hire 1,000 new police officers, trying to turn the city's persistent problems with shootings and murders to his advantage.
Emanuel countered that Garcia's promises would require tax hikes to fund them, saying that represented "the politics of the past."
An election that some said could be close, because of the number of undecided voters late in the campaign, in the end produced a double-digit victory by percentage points for the mayor. Emanuel joked about that, thanking his wife, Amy Rule, and their son, Zach, for voting. "They were undecided until this morning," Emanuel said. He didn't have to add how they voted.
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