White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel said Tuesday he was "surprised" by Chicago Mayor Richard Daley's decision not to seek reelection but offered no hint as to whether he might be a candidate to succeed him.
"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," Emanuel said in an e-mailed statement Tuesday afternoon.
Daley's announcement in Chicago immediately triggered speculation in Washington about Emanuel's future. The former Chicago congressman had once set his sights on being speaker of the House, but being coaxed into joining the Obama administration scuttled those plans.
Since then, however, he's made no secret of his interest in running for office again, with the mayor's job at the top of his list.
"I hope Mayor Daley seeks reelection. I will work and support him if he seeks reelection. But if Mayor Daley doesn't, one day I would like to run for mayor of the city of Chicago," Emanuel told Charlie Rose in an April interview. "That's always been an aspiration of mine even when I was in the House of Representatives."
Daley's announcement gives Emanuel a clear escape hatch at a time when the administration would likely see significant turnover. The filing deadline for candidates seeking to run for mayor is Nov. 22, 20 days after the midterm elections.
But the specter of Obama's most senior aide potentially eying an exit strategy comes at an inopportune moment, with the president's approval ratings near all-time lows and his party girding for major losses in Congress.
It's also a potential short-term distraction as Obama is set to announce new proposals aimed at jump-starting the economy.
A candidate for mayor needs 12,500 signatures on petitions to qualify for the ballot. Mayoral hopefuls have been eligible to begin collecting those since Aug. 24. The election itself is set for Feb. 22, with a runoff on April 5 if no candidate receives a majority in the initial vote.
Historically, White House chiefs of staff have served about two to three years. Four men served in that post under Bill Clinton, none for more than three years. But Andrew Card, George W. Bush's first chief of staff, served for more than five years, one of the longest-ever tenures in that post.
Emanuel was elected to represent Illinois' 5th Congressional District four times, though he only served three terms before leaving to head up Obama's West Wing. Rep. Mike Quigley won a special election to replace Emanuel in the House in April 2009.