Mayor Richard Daley's surprise announcement Tuesday that he won't stand for re-election rocked the very political foundation of a city that's come to rely on his power and virtually unchallenged leadership.
The decision also unleashed more than two decades of pent-up ambition in Chicago politics. With no heir apparent, jockeying commenced immediately, and the list of would-be successors already stretches seemingly as long as the lakefront.
Veteran Ald. Edward Burke, 14th, signaled the start of what portends to be a furious mayor's race when he announced Daley's retirement during the middle of a City Council Finance Committee meeting Tuesday afternoon.
"Wow, wow," said Burke, who wouldn't rule out a run for mayor. "So all you wanna-be mayors, I guess you better run out and get your petitions."
Political stability is expected to be in short supply in the post-Daley world. His departure creates a political vacuum in a city where racial and ethnic considerations are never very far beneath the surface. Before Daley reinvented the strong mayor style of government, Chicago's national reputation was marred by years of Council Wars.
"This opens things up and it could revive some of the old rivalries that existed," said Charles Wheeler, a political scientist and former Chicago journalist. "I'd expect there would be a black candidate, a Hispanic candidate, white ethnics and what we've known as one from the lakefront liberals. It's going to be a very interesting few months."
Those who want to follow Daley in running the nation's third-largest city will have to move quickly — there's little time to raise money, put together a campaign and sell a message to voters with the election looming Feb. 22.
More than a half-dozen aldermen, including some frequent Daley critics on an otherwise submissive City Council, are pondering a bid for mayor. They're joined by several candidates already running for other offices in the Nov. 2 state election.
White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, a former top Daley political aide, has made no secret of his desire to run when the current mayor retired. With Democrats nationally expected to face a difficult midterm November election, a move out of the chief of staff office would not be unusual.
Retiring Cook County Assessor James Houlihan "is very interested in being mayor," a spokesman said. Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart, seeking re-election this fall, has "always been interested in" the mayor's office, a spokesman said.
There was an odd silence from Cook County Commissioner Forrest Claypool, D-Chicago, a former Daley chief of staff who is challenging Joseph Berrios, the Democratic assessor candidate and county chairman this fall. "We are keeping mum," Claypool spokesman Tom Bowen said.
Ald. Robert Fioretti, 2nd, who has been traveling to events across the city in contemplation of a mayoral run, said he'll make a decision in the next 10 days. Ald. Scott Waguespack, 32nd, who voted against Daley's controversial parking meter lease deal, said he is weighing a mayoral bid.
Other council figures mulling a possible campaign for the fifth floor of City Hall include Sandi Jackson, 7th; Thomas Allen, 38th; Brendan Reilly, 42nd; Thomas Tunney, 44th; and former 1st Ward Ald. Manny Flores, who heads the Illinois Commerce Commission.
"I'm planning on running for re-election," Reilly said. "But this news, I think, requires everyone to take a step back and think about who the best candidate for that office could be."
U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson, D-Ill., long has been considered a future mayoral contender, but his aspirations may have been damaged during the federal corruption trial of ex- Gov. Rod Blagojevich. A federal prosecutor said that a Jackson supporter told the congressman in 2008 that he would raise $1 million in return for Blagojevich naming Jackson to the U.S. Senate seat vacated by President Barack Obama. Jackson has denied any knowledge of such an offer.
U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., said he would be talking with family and supporters about a mayoral run. But federal agents have questioned City Hall workers and aldermen about Gutierrez's ties to a corrupt developer and supporter.
Lisa Madigan, the state's attorney general and daughter of powerful Illinois House speaker and state Democratic Chairman Michael Madigan, said only that she was focused on winning a third term to statewide office in the fall.
City Clerk Miguel del Valle, who was appointed by Daley, also is weighing a bid.
Cook County Clerk David Orr, a former alderman who served as mayor for a week after Mayor Harold Washington died in office, called Daley's decision a "bombshell."
Orr said Daley's choice to announce his future now, rather than waiting closer to the Nov. 22 candidate filing deadline, may indicate there was no consensus on a replacement among the mayor's top political aides and supporters.
The maneuvering among the city's various racial and ethnic factions, a game as much of ego as one of bluffing out potential opponents, could serve to overshadow critical statewide contests for governor and U.S. senator in an election that's less than two months away. Mayoral contenders also face the prospect of having to quickly raise millions of dollars in a short period of time to pay for a costly TV advertising-driven campaign.
Daley offered no rationale for the timing of his decision. Ald. Patrick O'Connor, 40th, said Daley told his top staff about his decision Tuesday, and minutes later made his public announcement. Only his family knew beforehand, O'Connor said.
But some Daley confidantes said there were signs that Daley would step down. One noted that at a recent dinner involving the mayor and wealthy, prominent supporters in the business community, no one brought up the subject of fundraising for the upcoming election.
Whoever ultimately replaces Daley won't find the job an easy one.
The city faces a record budget shortfall of nearly $655 million in the coming year, which has forced Daley to consider further privatization, department consolidation and service cuts.
At the same time, the city is more than 800 police officers below full strength at a time of high-profile crime.
For the last two years, to cover day-to-day operating costs during the recession, Daley spent most of the $1.15 billion the city got from its much-criticized 75-year lease of the city parking meters. Dipping further into reserves, after bond agencies recently lowered the city's credit rating, is not an option.
The lease, which in the short run caused broken and jammed meters and over the long haul created some of the nation's highest on-street parking rates, also damaged voters' opinions of the mayor. Aldermen also were criticized for the lease, making any efforts by Daley to further privatize services more difficult.
"A fresh outlook and fresh ideas are critical, but it's going to take a lot more than a fresh outlook and fresh ideas," said Allen, the 38th Ward alderman, who is eyeing a run. "It's going to take a little bit of luck, that this economy starts to turn around."
Ald. Joe Moore, 49th, a frequent Daley critic, said he had assumed the mayor would seek — and win — a seventh term.
"I think that in recent weeks, with the lack of a credible re-election opponent, it looked like he was on his way to victory," Moore said. "As I've often said, 'You can't beat somebody with nobody.' And so far, nobody seemed to be the only potential opponent."
Tribune reporters John Byrne and Ray Long contributed.