Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel failed to capture a majority of the vote Tuesday in his bid for a second term, an embarrassment for the former White House chief of staff who now faces a runoff this spring against Cook County Commissioner Jesus "Chuy" Garcia.
The result exposed possible vulnerability for an incumbent who has widespread support from business leaders, national name recognition and raised millions of dollars in campaign funds. He participated in half a dozen debates and forums and received a last-minute boost from President Barack Obama.
Still, he wasn't able to capture the more than 50 percent necessary to avoid an April 7 runoff against Garcia, a former alderman and state senator, who finished far below Emanuel's vote total but far above the other three challengers.
"We have come a long way, and we have a little bit further to go," Emanuel told supporters. "This is the first step in a real important journey for our city."
Nodding to the themes in the weeks ahead, Emanuel noted the city's immigrant history after a bilingual address by U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez, a Democrat who's been prominent in the national push for immigration reform and once was a critic of Emanuel.
Garcia, born in Mexico and raised in Chicago, got his start in politics as an immigrant rights activist in the city. He was a water commissioner under the late Chicago Mayor Harold Washington.
"This city needs a mayor who will listen to people," Garcia told supporters, noting his support from neighborhood residents.
Garcia and Emanuel's other challengers — Alderman Bob Fioretti, businessman Willie Wilson and activist William Walls — had hoped to capitalize on resident discontentment over Emanuel's handling of schools and city violence.
Emanuel pushed for the closure of about 50 neighborhood schools in 2013, a year after the city's first teachers' strike in 25 years. The Chicago Teachers Union — whose fiery leader had once considered a bid to challenge Emanuel — backed Garcia during the race as the alternative to Emanuel.
Voters noted both issues at the polls, with early estimates signaling lower turnout than 2011 after former Mayor Richard Daley retired and the mayor's race was wide open. About 42 percent of eligible voters came to the polls.
Joyce Rodgers, who is retired, said she believed the school closings cost Emanuel the trust of the African-American community — and possibly the president's.
"There is total disappointment (in Emanuel)," she said. "I believe that Obama's been let down, too, he's just not going to say it."
Still others in the South Side neighborhood of Englewood said they were supporting Emanuel because he is positive on issues such as job creation, education and safer neighborhoods.
"Rahm has all (those) contacts and he is getting those corporations here, so he is giving people hope they can get a good job," said Willie King, a 56-year-old retired janitor.
On the campaign trail, Emanuel said his first term saw some tough decisions and payoffs, including budgets that didn't rely on property tax increases, drawing business to the city, getting a longer school day and raising the minimum wage.
The non-partisan election on Tuesday also featured contests for a new city treasurer, aldermen and advisory-style ballot questions on campaign finance and an elected school board.
Emanuel won his first mayoral race without a runoff four years ago. He ran an intense re-election bid, raising roughly $16 million, more than four times his challengers combined.
He vowed to hit the campaign trail on Wednesday morning, shaking hands at El train stops as he's been doing.
"We will get back out there, talking to our friends and families and neighbors as they make a critical choice about who has the strength, who has the leadership, who has the ideas to move this great city forward," Emanuel said.
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