Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced Tuesday that he won’t seek re-election to a third term.
“As much as I love this job and will always love this city and its residents, I’ve decided not to seek re-election,” he said in an announcement Tuesday from City Hall. “This has been the job of a lifetime, but it is not a job for a lifetime.”
He added, “Now with our three children in college, Amy and I have decided it’s time to write another chapter together.”
Emanuel said he won’t be a lame duck, saying he and his team “have more to do, and from now until then, we’ll do everything in our power to get it done.”
He also promised a “smooth and positive” transition for his successor, who will be elected by Chicagoans in February 2019.
“It will fill my eyes with tears to leave a job I love, and already my heart is full with gratitude,” he said.
Before he was mayor, Emanuel served as a US congressman representing Illinois’ 5th District for three terms and later worked as President Barack Obama’s chief of staff for nearly two years.
Obama, who lived in Chicago and was an Illinois senator before becoming president, lauded Emanuel for his “work to improve our schools” by prioritizing universal pre-K, debt-free community college, and “record job growth.”
“Chicago is better and stronger for his leadership, and I was a better President for his wise counsel at a particularly perilous time for our country,” Obama said.
A high-profile Democratic political warrior, Emanuel has also gone up against President Donald Trump as mayor, declaring his city a “Trump-free zone” and criticizing Trump’s immigration policies. Under his leadership, Chicago sued the Justice Department last year over its policy to withhold federal grants unless sanctuary cities comply with immigration enforcement.
Long known for his trademark brash attitude, Emanuel’s seven and a half years at City Hall have not been without controversy.
In his first year in office, Emanuel dealt with a teachers’ strike over tougher teacher evaluations and the length of school days. In 2013, he received backlash from Chicago’s teachers union after shuttering 50 public schools.
He faced the toughest challenge of his administration responding to the 2014 shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald.
Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke, who is white, fatally shot McDonald, a black teenager, in October 2014. Dyke was arrested and charged with first-degree murder on the same day that dashcam video showing the shooting was released in November 2015, sparking protests across the city.
However, the 13-month gap from the incident until the charge and video release was too long for some critics, who accused police and Emanuel of a cover-up. Emanuel rejected the calls to step down and denied that he was involved in keeping the video from being released.
Emanuel expressed regret about the circumstances surrounding McDonald’s death, saying in a 2015 speech during a special City Council meeting that he “take(s) responsibility for what happened, because it happened on my watch.”
Emanuel’s announcement comes the day before jury selection begin in Van Dyke’s trial. McDonald’s family declined to comment on Emanuel’s decision not to run for re-election.
Chicago has struggled with high shooting and murder rates in recent years. According to Chicago’s Bureau of Patrol Chief, shootings are down 30% from last year, and murders are down 25%.
Chicago will elect a new mayor on February 26, 2019. Twelve candidates have announced they’re running for mayor, including former Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy, who Emanuel asked to resign in 2015 following McDonald’s death.
Progressive groups, such as Democracy for America, celebrated the news Emanuel won’t try for a third term as a win.
“While it’s disappointing that Chicagoans won’t have the chance to give Rahm Emanuel the massive defeat at the polls he deserves for his long record of sheltering injustice, perpetuating inequity, and failing to keep Chicago safe, this is a great day for the Windy City,” the organization’s chair Jim Dean said in a statement.