Rahm Emanuel elected first Jewish mayor of Chicago

Former White House chief of staff is to succeed the retiring Richard Daley with 55% of the vote.

Rahm Emanuel thumbs up 311 (photo credit: AP Photo/Paul Beaty, File)
Rahm Emanuel thumbs up 311
(photo credit: AP Photo/Paul Beaty, File)
WASHINGTON – Former White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel was elected Tuesday as the first Jewish mayor of Chicago, with 55 percent of the vote.
Emanuel, 51, fended off five competitors for the seat vacated by Richard Daley, brother of new White House chief of staff William Daley, avoiding a runoff by winning more than half of the vote.
RELATED:US court throws Rahm Emanuel off Chicago ballot'Rahm Emanuel can't count on Jewish vote in mayoral run'
He was personally congratulated on his victory Tuesday night by US President Barack Obama, whose administration he left this fall to return to his native Chicago to campaign for the office of one of America’s largest and most diverse cities.
Though the Jewish community – some 84,000 of Chicago’s population of three million – has a long history in the Windy City, the political climate wasn’t always so hospitable to them.
A Chicago Sun-Times editorial Wednesday declared that race, religion and ethnicity no longer played the role they had as recently as the 1970s, when a city alderman asserted that latent anti-Semitism would keep a Jewish candidate from winning.
“The world has changed much since then, thankfully,” the editorial read. “The proof is in Emanuel’s easy victory.”
Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky said Emanuel frequently referred to himself as Jewish and clearly took pride in that identity, which didn’t hurt him on election day.
“The fact that it was so inconsequential, I think it speaks to a political maturity we have in Chicago... about our candidates,” the Illinois Democrat, who is also Jewish, told The Jerusalem Post by phone just before boarding a plane to Israel as part of a Jewish United Fund mission.
She noted Emanuel’s common references to his bar mitzva, his Jewish mother and other cultural touchstones. Emanuel has long been involved with his Chicago synagogue and gave his children a Jewish education, including bringing his son to Israel for his bar mitzva. Emanuel’s father comes from Israel, and at one point volunteered with the IDF.
Schakowsky also noted that the backing of fellow erstwhile Chicago politician Obama hadn’t hurt Emanuel in his quest for the broad-based support he received on Tuesday.
In his victory speech, Emanuel noted that Obama had called him after his win and shared “his love and affection for his hometown.”
Emanuel also mentioned another man who had made Chicago his home: his grandfather, who arrived in 1917.
“It is part of his Jewish identity, and clearly it’s his Jewish roots,” Michael Kotzin, JUF’s executive vice president, said of the reference to Emanuel’s family origins.
But, he added, “Chicago is a city of immigrations.
He’s also presenting himself as a Chicagoan – that’s the kind of Chicagoan he is.”
He said Emanuel’s Jewish heritage hadn’t had any impact on the race.
“It was, in effect, a non-factor in the election for the non-Jewish population; and for the Jewish population, there’s a sense of pride,” Kotzin said.
Some minimal events with tinges of anti- Semitism did creep into the campaign, according to Dan Elbaum of the American Jewish Committee’s Chicago office.
He said a union leader had referred to Emanuel at one point as a “Wall Street Judas,” but noted that “the statement was roundly condemned” and largely set aside.
Elbaum added that the Jewish community itself had also voted for Emanuel for reasons besides religion.
“The overwhelming sense of the Jewish community is that, separate from his religion, he can really do a good job as mayor,” he said.
Though Emanuel faced criticism from some quarters of the Jewish community during times of tension between the US and Israel while he was in the White House, Elbaum said the issue hadn’t surfaced in the campaign.
“I’ve heard a few whispers, a few comments about it, but a mayoral campaign is so much about local issues, I don’t think it played into the race even among the Jewish community,” he said. “Even for those in the community who might have disagreed with the administration, the overwhelming majority of Jews in this area don’t question his support for the State of Israel.”