CHICAGO — Months of political jockeying began in earnest Wednesday as speculation grew about who would try to succeed Mayor Richard M. Daley as leader of the nation's third-largest city, including one-time aide and current White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel.
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said Wednesday he has "no doubt" that Emanuel will weigh his future options now that the race for Chicago mayor is wide open. Emanuel has made no secret of wanting to run for Chicago mayor one day.
"Obviously something like that doesn't come around a lot," Gibbs told reporters traveling with the president to Ohio. "I presume that Rahm will take some time and make a decision about that."
For now, Emanuel is focused on being President Barack Obama's chief of staff, and, "the enormous number of tasks we have in front of us as an administration," said Gibbs, who hadn't spoken with Emanuel about his plans and he wasn't sure if he'd talked with the president. Emanuel represented Chicago in Congress before going to work for Obama.
Several aldermen are said to be mulling their chances. And Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart is considered a strong contender.
Then there are U.S. Reps. Jesse Jackson Jr. – who has considered face-offs with Daley in the past but then didn't run – and Luis Gutierrez, who could draw support from the city's substantial Hispanic population.
Daley, who presided over the City Council a day after announcing he wouldn't seek a seventh term, said voters must decide who they want as the next mayor, which he called "the best job in America," and that he will not endorse anyone to replace him.
"It won't be Rich daley to make that decision," he said.
Aldermen crowded the hallways outside the chamber to assess who might have the best chance of succeeding Daley and what kind of mayor the city will need.
"I don't think we have to have a strong-arm type of mayor," said Alderman Sandi Jackson, who has been named as a possible contender, along with her husband, Jackson Jr. "We're in dire economic times so it would behoove them to bring everybody to the table and to find ways to work with everyone."
Alderman Ed Burke, a longtime Daley rival and influential finance committee chairman, dodged the question of whether he would run. "Oh, we'll have to give that some thought," he said. "I think right now the...line is pretty crowded."
Political analyst Don Rose said Dart and Emanuel probably stand the best chance, though the field may include "a serious African American."
"It's all speculation at this moment, but I ... consider Dart to be the hottest political property in town, other than Lisa Madigan," the Illinois attorney general and daughter of powerful Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, Rose said in a written statement. "If Emanuel quits his job and comes back here to run, he will have his hands full."
Dart has made a name for himself in recent years, inside and outside Chicago, by suing Craigslist to try to force the Internet site to remove adult services ads, refusing to evict renters from homes in foreclosure and investigating a burial scandal at a historic black cemetery.
Jackson Jr. said Tuesday only a few candidates could mount a serious bid for mayor, but would not say if he would run. He is expected to win re-election to his congressional seat this fall, but has seen his reputation tarnished after revelations that supporters allegedly offered to raise money for former Gov. Rod Blagojevich in exchange for an appointment to President Barack Obama's former Senate seat. Jackson was not charged in the case and denies wrongdoing.
Political observers agreed Daley may have faced opposition for re-election, but likely would have won. He was first elected mayor in 1989, following in the footsteps of his father, Richard J. Daley, who died of a heart attack in 1976 at age 74 during his 21st year in office.
Daley said Wednesday he'd thought for the past six months about whether he would run again, but would not elaborate on his decision. His wife, Maggie, has been battling breast cancer for years.
"There's no reason; it's just how you feel," he said.
Prospective candidates must file for the February election in November.
The next mayor inherits a city ruled by a Daley for all but 13 of the last 55 years.
The fourth of seven children and the oldest son of Richard J. and Eleanor "Sis" Daley, Richard M. Daley grew up with politics a part of family life. A brother, William Daley, would become U.S. commerce secretary under President Bill Clinton. Another brother, John Daley, is a Cook County commissioner. But neither has ever publicly expressed interest in the City Hall job, and no one in the family appeared poised to run next year.
Daley is credited with saving a foundering public school system, beautifying downtown and tearing down the public housing high rises that helped give Chicago its well deserved reputation as one of the nation's most segregated cities. He's also faced a growing challenges.
Daley's wife's health has deteriorated in recent months. And the mayor's recent tenure has been marked by high-profile setbacks, from the city's unsuccessful bid to bring the 2016 Olympic Games to Chicago to the U.S. Supreme Court's overturning of the city's handgun ban. Like other mayors, Daley watched as the national recession left his city swimming in red ink.
His administration also has been dogged by whispers of corruption, including the 2006 felony conviction of a top aide in connection with illegal hiring practices at City Hall and a department head's conviction this year for illegally handing out city jobs to political campaign workers.
Critics grumbled that in some ways Daley's Chicago was run much as it had been under his father, the boss of Chicago's Democratic machine for two decades. He nevertheless remained popular, winning elections by overwhelming margins.
"I'm not surprised, I'm shocked," Paul Green, a Roosevelt University political scientist, said of Daley's decision not to run again. "I just wrote an article ... about how tough he would be to beat."
Associated Press Writers Tammy Webber and Don Babwin contributed to this story.