Incumbent Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel scored a solid victory Tuesday in the city’s first-ever runoff election, defeating challenger Jesus "Chuy" Garcia by more than 50,000 votes. The 55-year-old former White House chief of staff collected 56 percent of vote to Garcia's 44 percent, with 86 percent of the vote counted, according to Chicago's Board of Election Commissioners.
"Thank you Chicago," Emanuel said at the start of his victory speech, joking his wife Amy and son were undecided about their votes until they went to cast their ballots Tuesday morning.
"You voted for a second term and a second chance," Emanuel, his voice rasping, told supporters. "I have had the good fortune to serve two presidents. I have had the good fortune to be elected to Congress. Being the mayor of the city of Chicago is the greatest job I have had."
Emanuel centered his campaign on the argument he was the candidate best equipped to deal with Chicago’s growing financial crisis. The city’s budget deficit could reach $1.2 billion by 2016 amid troubles related to public pension funds. Critics have questioned his decisions to close public schools and seeming inability to combat violent crime.
Garcia had criticized Emanuel as being out of touch with small business owners and average citizens. He presented himself as a progressive candidate willing to fight for low-income communities and received support from the Chicago Teachers Union and the Rev. Jesse Jackson.
Emanuel was re-elected despite public criticism generated by his administration's refusal to release hundreds of emails exchanged between the mayor and top donor Michael Sacks, chief executive at Chicago private equity firm Grosvenor. Sacks serves vice chairman of World Business Chicago. Critics flooded City Hall and called for the emails to be released in accordance with public transparency laws, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.
Polls conducted ahead of Tuesday’s vote gave Emanuel a commanding lead over Garcia. An April 4 poll by Chicago’s Ogden & Fry projected Emanuel would receive more than 51 percent of the vote, compared to just 33 percent for his challenger, according to Reuters.
Emanuel spent aggressively ahead of the runoff vote to secure re-election. “Chicago for Rahm Emanuel” amassed nearly $23 million in donations, while Garcia raised approximately $6 million, the Chicago Tribune reported.
Voter participation increased in the days ahead of the runoff. More than 142,000 Chicago residents submitted early ballots for the mayoral race, compared to approximately 90,000 ahead of the vote in February, CNN reported.
Emanuel’s bid to win a second term in office hit a surprise snag in February when he failed to obtain the outright majority needed to avoid a runoff. He received just 45.4 percent of the vote in the race’s first round while Garcia, who currently serves as Cook County commissioner, received 33.9 percent.