Mayor Daley’s decision could shake up White House

Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley’s decision to leave City Hall, announced Tuesday, set in motion a chain of events that could ultimately lead to a leadership shuffle at the White House.

Rahm Emanuel, the president’s chief of staff, has been pining for that office for months, telling people he wanted to leave the Obama administration to run for mayor if Daley, a friend, decided not to.

Fresh on the heels of Daley’s announcement, Emanuel avoided saying anything about his own plans, instead releasing a one-sentence statement praising the mayor’s time in office. “While Mayor Daley surprised me today with his decision to not run for reelection, I have never been surprised by his leadership, dedication and tireless work on behalf of the city and the people of Chicago,” he said.

But some White House staffers expect that Emanuel will run, one administration official said, recalling that the chief of staff said several weeks ago, “If and when Rich doesn’t run, I’ll do it.” Emanuel’s plans remained unclear Tuesday.

A longtime resident of Chicago’s North Side, Emanuel served as a member of Congress and as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the post from which he helped engineer the party’s takeover of the House of Representatives in 2006.

His departure would change the administration in significant ways, in large part by tempering the strong Chicago influence over the West Wing. Along with Chicago friends and senior advisors David Axelrod and Valerie Jarrett, Emanuel presides over a circle of aides who have a long history with one another and share an intense loyalty to President Obama.

Emanuel has long made it clear he was interested in the mayor’s job, always pointing out that he would not run against Daley.

“You know that even when I was in Congress I wanted to be mayor,” Emanuel told the Tribune Washington Bureau during a March interview.

But he and his wife, Amy Rule, soon signed their children up for another year of school in the Washington area, planning for the likelihood that Daley would run again.

Axelrod, who worked with Emanuel on Daley’s first mayoral campaign in 1989, said they both were stunned to learn that Daley wouldn’t be running.

“We both strongly assumed that he was,” Axelrod said. “So we’re just absorbing that news and the impact that it will have in Chicago, which will be large.”

That didn’t stop official Washington from speculating on White House succession possibilities.

If Emanuel leaves to run in February’s mayoral election, leading contenders to replace him include Jarrett; Vice President Joe Biden’s chief of staff, Ron Klain; former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.); Obama’s former Senate chief of staff, Pete Rouse; and the two current assistant chiefs of staff, Mona Sutphen and Jim Messina.

Opponents are not waiting for Emanuel to announce a run for the office to mount a counter-campaign. Bitter over Emanuel’s role in moderating the president’s healthcare overhaul, liberal critics are circulating an online petition against him.

For the moment, Emanuel has other matters to worry about. Obama is stepping up his efforts to promote Middle East peace talks, on which Emanuel has been a key advisor.

“Rahm has a lot on his plate,” Axelrod said. “He has a pretty responsible job. And that’s what he’s focused on right now.”