CHICAGO — When Rahm Emanuel quit Friday as President Barack Obama's chief of staff, he said it was for "new challenges" in Chicago, talked up the unbeaten Bears and lauded the city – never once mentioning he was coming home to run for mayor.
Emanuel joins a growing list of hopefuls doing the same political dance, testing the water before formally jumping into the free-for-all to replace Mayor Richard Daley, who announced last month he will not seek a seventh term.
The former Illinois congressman was careful not to launch his mayoral bid from Washington at the risk of offending Chicago voters, who aren't expected to let him just waltz into job.
"I'm energized by the prospect of new challenges and eager to see what I can do to make our hometown even greater," he said at a televised White House send-off. Even Obama sounded in on the ruse.
"As almost all of you have reported, my chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, has informed me that he will be leaving his post today to explore other opportunities," Obama said, adding that it was a new challenge for which Emanuel was "extraordinarily well qualified."
Chicago voter Taylor Anderson, 26, said he wished Emanuel would just come out and say he's running.
"I mean you really don't quit the White House, at least it wouldn't be a wise move," said Anderson, a file clerk at a law firm.
But Elizabeth Ryan, a 54-year-old systems analyst, said she understands the political posturing.
"It's what I expect really, I've lived in Chicago a long time," she said.
Candidates often are coy about announcing while they line up support and determine what kind of money they can raise. It's also a chance to scope out the competition.
Emanuel is expected to begin touring Chicago neighborhoods Monday, but began reaching out to voters in his White House resignation speech. He connected with Jewish voters by mentioning his bar mitzvah. He spoke to sports fans by praising the Chicago Bears' 3-0 record. He talked about how his mother marched with Martin Luther King Jr., in a nod to black voters and others. He choked up talking about his family's immigrant background.
Only a few candidates have officially entered the race since Daley's surprise announcement: Chicago City Clerk Miguel del Valle, state Sen. Rickey Hendon and former Chicago school board president and one-time U.S. Senate candidate Gery Chico.
Del Valle said he welcomed all candidates after Emanuel's resignation announcement. Chico took a small dig that's sure to be repeated by others who want to cast Emanuel as an outsider who left home for Washington.
"I've been in this city for 20 years in the trenches, I don't need to go on a listening tour," Chico said.
The mayoral field could easily number about a dozen if everybody who's deliberating or collecting petition signatures jumps in. Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart is telling people he's in and a host of others are considering running, including U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez and Chicago Alderman Bob Fioretti.
A number of African-American candidates are also considering it, including U.S. Rep. Danny Davis, state Sen. James Meeks, an influential black pastor, and former U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley Braun. Black leaders have discussed throwing their support behind a single candidate to increase the chances Chicago could elect its second black mayor.