CHICAGO - Former White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel was elected mayor of Chicago on Tuesday, easily overwhelming five rivals to take the helm of the third-largest U.S. city as it prepares to chart a new course without the retiring Richard M. Daley.
With 97 percent of the precincts reporting, Emanuel had trounced five opponents with 55 percent of the vote a margin that allowed him to avoid an April runoff. He needed more than 50 percent of the vote to win outright.
It was the city's first mayoral race in more than 60 years without an incumbent on the ballot and the first in more than two decades without Daley among the candidates. Daley and his father have led Chicago for more than 43 out of the last 56 years.
Emanuel called the victory "humbling" and thanked Daley for his lifetime of service, saying the outgoing mayor had "earned a special place in our hearts and our history."
But he added: "We have not won anything until a kid can go to school thinking of their studies and not their safety. Until the parent of that child is thinking about their work and not where they are going to find work, we have not won anything."
President Barack Obama sent his good wishes to Emanuel. The president said in a statement that Emanuel's victory was well-deserved and he couldn't be prouder of his fellow Chicagoan and friend.
Reginald Bachus, the 51-year-old pastor of a West Side church who voted for Emanuel, said this was "a very critical time for Chicago.
"We really need a mayor who has vision. It's my personal opinion everyone else would have been a manager, and I think Rahm has vision," Bachus said.
The other major candidates former Chicago schools president Gery Chico, former Sen. Carol Moseley Braun and City Clerk Miguel del Valle had hoped to force a runoff that would have extended the campaign for six more weeks. But they were no match for Emanuel's momentum and money.
Chico had 25 percent of the vote compared with 9 percent for both del Valle and Braun. Two other lesser-known candidates each got about 1 percent.
The campaign began last fall when Daley with an ailing wife, six terms under his belt and a future full of looming fiscal challenges announced he would not seek re-election.
Emanuel, a 51-year-old married father of three, will be the city's first Jewish mayor. He is a well-known figure in national Democratic politics. He worked for two presidents and served three terms representing Chicago's North Side in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Emanuel had just been elected to his fourth term in 2008, when he resigned to work for fellow Chicagoan Obama as White House chief of staff. It was a job he held until he resigned in October 2010 to run for Chicago mayor. He had also worked as a top aide to Bill Clinton.
The new mayor faces a daunting series of challenges, including fixing the city's finances, addressing underfunded employee pensions and confronting a shrinking urban population.
The new mayor will have to decide quickly on a politically unpalatable strategy for improving city finances that may involve raising taxes and cutting services and public employee benefits.
Daley has been criticized for allowing the city to spend beyond its means, and Chicago was not spared the pain of the economic downturn of the last few years.
The city's inspector general's office warned in October that Chicago's annual deficit was effectively more than $1 billion when combining recent budget deficits with the spending increases the city would need to properly fund its pension system.
Emanuel's win capped off a campaign that included an unsuccessful legal challenge to try to knock him off the ballot.
More than two dozen objectors contended that Emanuel wasn't eligible to run for mayor because he didn't meet the city's one-year residency requirement.
Emanuel had lived in Washington for nearly two years while he worked for Obama and his family had rented out their Chicago home to join him. Emanuel moved back to Chicago in October after Daley announced he wouldn't seek a seventh term.
The matter went all the way to the Illinois Supreme Court, which overturned a lower-court ruling that threw Emanuel off the ballot.