Rahm Emanuel and Amy Rule. Credit: City of Chicago

CHICAGO — Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced Tuesday morning he will not run for re-election next year, a stunning announcement that leaves a wide-open race for leader of Chicago.

“I’m not shy, and together we’ve never shied away from a challenge,” the 58-year-old, two-term mayor said with his wife, Amy Rule, at his side.

“Today, the time has come to make another tough choice. As much as I love this job, I’ve decided not to seek re-election. This has been the job of a lifetime, but it is not a job for a lifetime. You hire us to get things done, and to pass the torch when we’ve done our best.”

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The surprise announcement came at the City Hall podium, his voice cracking as he talked about his family and thanked Chicagoans.

“For the last seven and a half years, I’ve given my all every day and left everything on the field. This commitment has required significant sacrifice all around,” he said. “We have more to do and from now until then we’ll do everything in our power to get it done and walk out the door hopefully leaving Chicago and Chicagoans a stronger place.”

Emanuel faced what was expected to be a tough re-election campaign, with more than 10 challengers lining up to take a shot at what many considered to be a mayor weakened by protests, many around the 2014 police shooting of Laquan McDonald, 17.

The Chicago Police officer who fired the fatal 16 shots, Jason Van Dyke, is set to go on trial in the coming days. The shooting was captured on dash cam video, and its eventual release after Emanuel’s 2015 re-election sparked weeks of protests. The fallout cost Police Supt. Garry McCarthy his job. Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez, who charged Van Dyke with murder just before the video was publicly released, lost re-election.

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Kofi Ademola, an organizer with Black Lives Matter and other organizations, said he was stunned when he heard the news Tuesday.

“I was ecstatic,” Ademola said. “I was in disbelief. Best news I’ve heard in a very long time. It’s sardonic. It’s melancholic and sad that we should feel like that about somebody that’s created so much chaos and harm in our community and perpetuated inequality. I think this is a great day, but we still have to deal with him all the way to … February.”

While the mayor had his critics, he also had some high-profile supporters – including his former boss President Barack Obama.  In a statement Tuesday, Obama said “Chicago is better and stronger” due to Emanuel’s leadership.

“As a mayor, a congressman, and my first White House chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel has been a tireless and brilliant public servant,” Obama said in a statement. “I’ve been blessed to call Rahm my friend. … Whatever he chooses to do next, I know he’ll continue to make a positive difference, just as he has throughout his career in public service.”

Emanuel allies, including veteran alderman Danny Solis (25th), learned about the mayor’s decision “five minutes before he announced” in a phone call – even though he had just held a first day of school press conference with the mayor hours earlier.

“I was surprised,” Solis said. “But I could understand his decision. It’s a tough job….it’s been tough getting all these attacks…up to his house.”

Solis said Emanuel “did a phenomenal job dealing with the key issues in the city.” He said the mayor began “the first or second phase of straightening out the…pension issue, improving schools, bringing jobs to the city as well as bringing new industry and commerce.”

Ald. Deb Mell (33rd) said she was grateful to Emanuel for appointing her to her father’s seat when then-Ald. Richard Mell retired in 2014. 

“I want to thank Mayor Emanuel for his service to Chicago,” Mell said in a statement. “He did what he thought was best for our city at a time when Chicago’s future was looking very bleak. I’ll always be grateful that he gave me the opportunity to serve the people of the 33rd Ward. I wish him, Amy, and his entire family all the best.”

Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) said he too was surprised by the decision and wishes Emanuel and his wife Amy well.

Hopkins said, “As we look to the future with regard to jobs and economic opportunity, whomever carries the Mayoral baton, must standby the pledges made to recruit companies like Amazon.”

The next mayoral election is Feb. 26. If no one gets a majority of the vote, the top two vote-getters will square off on April 2.

Mayor of Chicago was one of many big-time political jobs for Emanuel, who began as a fundraiser for former Mayor Richard M. Daley.

He went onto work for President Bill Clinton before going into private sector and making millions.

He then became a U.S. congressman, serving Chicago’s North Side. He ascended in power and at one point was considered a potential U.S. Speaker of the House candidate.

But when Barack Obama was elected president in 2008, he tapped Emanuel to be his chief of staff. Emanuel helped guide the early years of the Obama presidency before leaving that post to run for mayor when Daley stepped down in a similarly shocking announcement that came on Sept. 7, 2010.

After overcoming a challenge based on his residency and facing five other candidates on the ballot, Emanuel was elected the 55th mayor of Chicago in February 2011, getting 55 percent of the vote.

In April 2015, he was re-elected with 56 percent of the vote in a run-off election against Jesus “Chuy” Garcia.

Emanuel’s campaign fund committee, Citizens to Elect Rahm Emanuel, had $7,560,291.05 in it at the close of the last quarter on June 30, and has since raised more than $775,000 in the past two months, with $8,336,211.03 in the fund as of Tuesday, according to Illinois Sunshine, a nonprofit that tracks campaign funding.

In all, there are 11 people who have officially tossed their hat in the ring for the mayoral election.

The candidates with the most name recognition — and the ones considered to be frontrunners — are Lori Lightfoot, former president of the Chicago Police Board; Paul Vallas, former CEO of Chicago Public Schools; and former Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy.

But the race has also been crowded by activists like Ja’Mal Green and outsiders like Troy LaRaviere, a former CPS principal, and businessman Willie Wilson, among others.

Here’s a full list of who’s running:

Dorothy Brown
Amara Enyia
Ja’Mal Green
Troy LaRaviere
Lori Lightfoot
John Kozlar
Garry McCarthy
Matthew Roney
Neal Sales-Griffin
Paul Vallas
Willie Wilson

Jerry Joyce Jr., the son of a former 19th ward alderman and longtime political powerhouse Jeremiah Joyce, has also filed paperwork with the state that would allow him to start collecting campaign donations, according to the Tribune.

Kelly Bauer, Alisa Hauser, Mauricio Pena and Alex Hernandez contributed to this report. 

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