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Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel Faces Runoff In April

LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

It will be another six weeks of campaigning for Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. He's hoping to lead the country's third-largest city for a second term, but the former White House chief of staff failed to capture more than 50 percent of the vote in Chicago's race for mayor yesterday. That's despite endorsements from President Obama and the city's major newspapers. NPR's Cheryl Corley has the story from Chicago.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

MAYOR RAHM EMANUEL: Thank you, Chicago.

(APPLAUSE)

CHERYL CORLEY, BYLINE: In a voice hoarse from campaigning, Mayor Rahm Emanuel thanked supporters at his election night party and told them their work was not complete.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

EMANUEL: We have come a long way, and we have a little bit further to go. This is the first step in a real important journey for our city.

CORLEY: Emanuel ran against four challengers. And with nearly all the votes counted, he fell short of capturing the more than 50 percent vote count he needed. He'll face Cook County Commissioner Jesus Chuy Garcia, the second-place finisher in a runoff election in April. It was a disappointment to Emanuel supporters like Kenneth Williams, who tried to put the best face on the results.

KENNETH WILLIAMS: Well, I mean, you had a lot of players in the game. And, you know, people out there are not really informed. They don't really get the big picture.

CORLEY: The setback for Emanuel came even though he vastly outspent his challengers with millions of dollars of campaign funds that were raised in part from Hollywood directors and hedge fund executives. And just last week, President Obama traveled back home and praised his former chief of staff. David Axelrod, who served in the White House as a senior adviser to the president, said that was no reflection on Obama's influence.

DAVID AXELROD: He of all people coming out of independent politics here in Chicago would say he didn't expect to dictate what people's votes are.

CORLEY: And Axelrod says the relationship between the president and Rahm Emanuel will be helpful during the next phase of this campaign fight as people consider their final choices. Just a few blocks away, Chuy Garcia was holding a more exuberant election night party.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

JESUS CHUY GARCIA: How do you feel, Chicago?

(CHEERING)

CORLEY: Garcia said no one expected him to force a runoff since he had little campaign money, and the Emanuel camp dominated the airwaves with commercials.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

GARCIA: Well, we're still standing.

(CHEERING, APPLAUSE)

GARCIA: We're still running.

(CHEERING)

GARCIA: And we're going to win.

(CHEERING)

CORLEY: Four years ago, Emanuel won the mayoral seat outright, but his support waned after he backed a controversial decision to close 50 public schools in mostly minority communities, and high crime persisted in some neighborhoods. Critics also charge that Emanuel paid scant attention to city neighborhoods while focusing instead on the city's downtown. Garcia jumped into the race last October after the head of the Chicago Teachers Union ended her campaign when she became ill. Union spokesperson Stephanie Gadlin says the Teachers Union had 4,000 people out in the field for Garcia on Election Day.

STEPHANIE GADLIN: Obviously, we ran a superPAC of our own, which drilled down on targeted voters - African-American households, people whose schools were closed down, communities impacted by Rahm's policies, which are pretty much every neighborhood outside downtown Chicago.

CORLEY: Roughly 34 percent of Chicago's registered voters turned out for the election. Both the Emanuel and Garcia campaigns say they'll start working as soon as today to make sure those numbers are higher on April 7 when Chicagoans head to the polls again to select a mayor. Cheryl Corley, NPR News, Chicago. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.