CHICAGO – Rahm Emanuel, whose tumultuous tenure as Chicago mayor included an infamous police shooting and a surge in violent crime, said in a surprise announcement Tuesday that he would abandon his plan to seek a third term next year but gave no reason for the sudden change of heart.
Emanuel also led the effort to conduct the largest mass closing of neighborhood schools in American history and is credited with helping to stabilize the city's finances through politically unpopular increases in taxes and fees.
The 58-year-old former White House chief of staff known for his pugnacious political style said only that he and his wife “look forward to writing that next chapter in our journey together.”
“This has been the job of a lifetime, but it is not a job for a lifetime,” the mayor said, reading prepared remarks at a news conference.
Before becoming mayor in 2011, Emanuel was a Democratic congressman and chief of staff to President Barack Obama. In winning the city's top office, he succeeded Richard M. Daley, who was mayor for more than 20 years, and won a second term in 2015.
Emanuel had been running and raising money for months in preparation for the February election. The Chicago Tribune said he had already amassed more than $10 million to campaign for another four-year term.
His announcement came the day before the start of jury selection for one of the biggest police-shooting trials in Chicago history, a case that seemed sure to renew questions about the city's long effort to prevent the release of video showing white officer Jason Van Dyke shooting black teenager Laquan McDonald 16 times in 2014.
Many people asked whether Emanuel's office delayed releasing the video to lessen the political damage.
“Imagine this trial is starting and what happened is going to get rehashed over and over and over again while you are in campaign mode,' said Delmarie Cobb, a media and political consultant and a vocal critic of the mayor.
David Axelrod, who worked with Emanuel in Obama's White House said Emanuel told him of his decision not to run last weekend.
“I think he was aware of the timing of the trial, and he was also aware of what he did and didn't do. And I think he was comfortable about that,” Axelrod said.
A verdict in the officer's favor or a hung jury could prompt another crisis in the city, inviting large protests and creating a volatile political atmosphere.
No matter how the trial ends, Emanuel's legacy as mayor will likely be tied to the case. The video's release led to a Department of Justice probe of Chicago police, culminating in a damning report last year that found widespread civil rights violations.