On May 16 Rahm Emanuel took the oath of office as mayor, promising to topple the status quo. “The city of Chicago is ready for change,” he proclaimed.
Exactly what sort of change he has in mind remains to be seen. Though Emanuel is fond of saying his election was evidence of the city’s desire for a new day, his pronouncements so far have been heavy on grandeur and light on specifics.
It’s also debatable how much change has been demanded in the city—especially among its power-brokers. Mayor Daley was poised to win reelection had he chosen to run again, in part because no other formidable candidates had the guts to take him on. After he abruptly bowed out, the field of would-be mayors thinned quickly once most Chicago pols concluded that Daley and his brother were essentially handing the baton to their old friend and ally Emanuel.
Emanuel then became the clear choice of voters who admire a bad-ass boss who can reassure the city’s business community that, despite difficult economic times, Chicago isn’t becoming Detroit. And, of course, it didn’t hurt his standing with black voters that President Obama all but endorsed him. He ended up obliterating his campaign rivals in fund-raising before coasting to a first-round victory with 55 percent of the vote.
Rhetoric aside, as he moved from political insider to mayoral candidate to the city’s first new chief executive in 22 years, Emanuel left often cryptic signs about the kind of mayor he will be. At the same time that Daley was withdrawing from official responsibilities, defending his legacy, ripping his critics, and pursuing growing interests in Asia, his successor promised change with a Washington-style campaign efficiency while also picking up some themes his predecessor had championed for years—smaller government, diminished unions, privatization, and strong ties with the city’s political and business elite.
The time line of the last 20 months tells the story of how Emanuel was ushered into office—and raises questions about whether he will be, can be, or wants to be a mayor who actually changes Chicago.
View the time line below. To see hidden dates, click the icons with the + sign. Alternatively, you can view as a flipbook or as a reverse chronological list. For a legend of the icons, and a list of the players, see the images on the right side of the story.