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Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley won't seek another term in office, clearing the way for a potential run by White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel next year.
"It's time," Daley, 68, said at a City Hall news conference where he was surrounded by his wife, Maggie, and other family members. "It's time for me. It's time for Chicago to move on."
After first winning election in 1989, the son of the late Mayor Richard J. Daley is serving his sixth term as the leader of the third-largest U.S. city by population. The younger Daley's tenure was marked by his takeover of the city's school system, the demolition of much of its public housing, corruption scandals and a failed bid to win the 2016 Summer Olympics.
"Improving Chicago has been the ongoing work of my life," Daley said. "I loved every minute of it."
Emanuel, who served three terms in the U.S. House representing part of Chicago's North Side before being picked by President Barack Obama for the White House job, has said he would be interested in the job if Daley didn't run.
"That's always been an aspiration of mine even when I was in the House of Representatives," Emanuel, 50, said in an April interview on PBS television's "Charlie Rose Show." "If Mayor Daley doesn't, one day I would like to run for mayor."
Emanuel, who continues to own a home in Chicago, issued a statement saying: "While Mayor Daley surprised me today with his decision to not run for re-election, I have never been surprised by his leadership, dedication and tireless work on behalf of the city and the people of Chicago."
The White House chief of staff will be in Chicago on Sept. 12 as the "special guest" at a fundraiser for Democratic U.S. Representative Debbie Halvorson, according to a copy of the invitation obtained by Bloomberg News. His planned attendance was confirmed by Anthony DeAngelo, a spokesman for Halvorson's campaign.
Daley may have chosen not to run because of his wife's almost decade-long fight with breast cancer and the stubborn nature of the city's problems, said John McCarron, an urban affairs writer and adjunct professor at DePaul University in Chicago.
"It had stopped being fun," McCarron said. "The problems he cared the most about had become intractable," including violence on the city's streets. Daley was angered by a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June that he said rendered the city's 28-year-old handgun ban unenforceable.
"You can pass all the gun laws you want and all the after- school programs you want," McCarron said, "but youths are still forming gangs and killing each other."
In the past two years in particular, Daley has faced challenges surrounding a weak economy and budget shortfalls.
Chicago is forecast to have a $654.7 million deficit in a $3.39 billion budget for 2011, according to a July 30 estimate from the city. Daley filled holes in the current $3.12 billion budget by transferring cash reserves from the earlier privatization of parking meters, garages and a tollway.
Speculation about whether he would run again intensified after last year's failure to win the Summer Games.
More than half of Chicago voters said they didn't want to see Daley re-elected, according to a Chicago Tribune/WGN-TV poll in July that also found that 37 percent of city voters approved of the job he is doing.
Chicago radio stations immediately were buzzing with speculation about who else might step up to run for the job. Nov. 22 is the last day to file candidate nomination papers for the Feb. 22 election.
In a city where the first Mayor Daley served from 1955 until he suffered a heart attack and died in office in 1976, the son will pass his father's record for time in office late this year.
"I've given it my all," the mayor said. "I've done the best."
Politicians from Washington to Springfield, Illinois, praised Daley, who has played important roles in both Illinois and national politics.
"No mayor in America has loved a city more or served a community with greater passion than Rich Daley," Obama said in a statement. "He helped build Chicago's image as a world class city, and leaves a legacy of progress that will be appreciated for generations to come."
Senator Dick Durbin said he spoke with Daley after his announcement and called it a "personal" and "family" decision.
"The job of a big city mayor is one of the hardest in America," Durbin said in a statement. "The fact that Chicago is one of the best, most energized, most attractive places to live in our nation tells the story of Mayor Daley's record."
Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, who is also chairman of the state's Democratic Party, said Daley had been a major force in keeping the Chicago region "vibrant, alive and on the national stage."
The Reverend Jesse Jackson, whose son, Representative Jesse Jackson Jr., has been mentioned as a potential mayoral candidate, was less upbeat in his assessment.
"His strength was downtown urban development, more so than in neighborhood community development," Jackson said in a statement. "The next mayor will face the burden of huge deficits and a city that is virtually insolvent."