CHICAGO — White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel is set to give up his influential national post Friday to begin a run for Chicago mayor, a job he has long coveted but won't win unless he persuades voters he's still one of them.
People close to Emanuel said he will fly home over the weekend and hit the streets Monday to talk to voters, after announcing his resignation Friday. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs says only that President Barack Obama will make a "personnel announcement" Friday morning, but even his vague comments made it eminently clear Emanuel is leaving.
"He intends to run for mayor," one person close to Emanuel told The Associated Press, requesting anonymity to avoid pre-empting the announcement.
The move pits Emanuel, one of the most powerful men in the nation, against a growing field of local politicians vying for the job that will be vacated next spring by Mayor Richard M. Daley, who announced last month that he will not seek a seventh term.
Emanuel's victory in the race is not a sure thing, with rivals certain to attack the longtime political operative and former congressman as a brusque outsider who belongs more to Pennsylvania Avenue than Michigan Avenue, more to the halls of Congress than City Hall.
Two people close to him said Thursday they did not know when Emanuel would officially declare he was entering the mayoral race, but that he would launch a website with a message to Chicago voters in the near future.
Emanuel has certainly left his mark on Washington, D.C., where his departure, expected by the political world ever since Daley's surprise announcement, remains an unquestioned loss for Obama.
The president has counted on Emanuel's intensity, discipline and congressional relationships to keep the White House focused and aggressive. Holding a job with nearly unrivaled pressure and power, Emanuel has been true to form at the White House – a briskly moving political manager who is prone to profanity and driven to delivering on the president's directives.
Obama is expected to install senior adviser Pete Rouse, a calm White House presence with his own seasoned understanding of how Washington work, to serve as interim chief of staff. Gibbs said the president has "complete loyalty and trust" in Rouse, though he wouldn't confirm Rouse had been tapped for the interim post. The president is likely to choose a permanent chief of staff after the Nov. 2 midterm elections.
Emanuel has made no secret of his interest in running for mayor, saying in an April television interview that if Daley, the mayor since 1989, ever decided to step down he'd be interested in running. While Emanuel lives in Washington, he did not sell his house in Chicago, choosing to rent it out.
But earlier this week, news surfaced that the couple living in the home is refusing his request to break their lease so he and his family can move back in.
One election law attorney, Bert Odelson, argues the rental flap highlights a more serious question – whether Emanuel's absence could mean he is no longer a city resident with the right to run. Odelson said Emanuel's move last year means he no longer is a resident.
"His actions are very clear," Odelson said. "He doesn't comply with the statute."
Friends and supporters say Emanuel's decision to rent his house and not sell it is a clear indication he's always planned to move back to Chicago and say he's continued to use the address to vote absentee.
Chicago Board of Elections spokesman Jim Allen said Thursday he couldn't speak specifically to Emanuel's situation. But, generally, he said a candidate or voter who takes "some type of out of town assignment" but maintains registration and votes absentee "has given an indication of an intent to return and is considered a resident."
Dawn Clark Netsch, a law professor and constitutional scholar who helped write the Illinois Constitution, said called residency "a matter of intent."
"If you register to vote and vote that's a pretty good sign of intent and therefore residency," Netsch said.
Legal resident or not, Emanuel will surely have to defend himself against attacks that he's an outsider. That might explain why, as people close to him have said, one of the first things he plans to do upon returning to Chicago is visit neighborhoods and talk to voters.
While Emanuel and his supporters say he was attentive in representing his North Side district in Congress from 2003 to 2009, others will try to remind voters that it's been a couple years since he did much more than vote in the city.
"They will go back to (voters) and say remember when I busted my ass to get your street light fixed, can I count on your vote?" said Mike McKeon, a national pollster based in suburban Chicago.
None of the other potential contenders have Emanuel's national name recognition, but are all well known to local voters. They include Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart, who has been telephoning friends to say he is running; former U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley Braun, whose supporters are circulating nominating petitions; U.S. Reps. Danny Davis and Luis Gutierrez; and State Sen. James Meeks, a prominent black minister.
With well over $1 million in his campaign fund and a history of raising millions of dollars for other candidates, Emanuel's campaign promises to be well funded. Prospective opponents, though, remain undaunted.
"I don't think it will come down to money," Meeks said. "It will come down to track record, who can show what they have done and not who can say what they intend to do."
AP White House Correspondent Ben Feller contributed to this report from Washington.