CHICAGO (AP) — Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel failed to capture a majority of the vote Tuesday in his bid for a second term, an embarrassment for the former White House chief of staff who now faces a runoff against Cook County Commissioner Jesus "Chuy" Garcia.
The result exposed possible vulnerability for an incumbent who has widespread support from business leaders, national name recognition and millions of dollars in campaign funds. He participated in half a dozen debates and forums — often defending his more controversial decisions on schools and violence — and received a last-minute boost with a hometown visit from President Barack Obama.
Still, he wasn't able to capture the more than 50 percent necessary to avoid an April 7 runoff against Garcia, a former alderman and state senator. With nearly all the votes counted, Emanuel had 45 percent, Garcia 34 percent, and the three other candidates divided the rest.
"We have come a long way, and we have a little bit further to go," Emanuel told supporters. "This is the first step in a real important journey for our city."
Nodding at the possible challenge appealing to diverse populations, the mayor lauded the immigrant history in the nation's third-largest city. He was introduced in a bilingual address by U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez, a former critic of Emanuel who has been prominent in the national push for immigration reform.
During the campaign, Garcia and the three other challengers played on discontentment in Chicago's neighborhoods, where frustrations linger over Emanuel's push to close dozens of schools. They also criticized Emanuel's roughly $16 million fundraising operation — more than four times his challengers combined — and attention to downtown improvements.
Garcia, born in Mexico and raised in Chicago, billed himself as the "neighborhood guy." He drew on his contacts with community organizers and support from the Chicago Teachers Unions, whose leader, Karen Lewis, considered a mayoral bid before being diagnosed with a brain tumor.
"This city deserves a mayor who will put people first, not big money, special interests," Garcia said. "I will be that mayor."
Garcia and the other challengers — Alderman Bob Fioretti, businessman Willie Wilson and activist William Walls — also critiqued the mayor on his handling of violence.
Voters noted both issues at the polls, with estimates signaling lower turnout than 2011 after former Mayor Richard Daley retired, leaving the mayor's race wide open. About 42 percent of eligible voters came to the polls then, compared with roughly 34 percent Tuesday.
Emanuel won his first mayoral race in 2011 without a runoff.
Joyce Rodgers, who is retired, said she believed the school closings cost Emanuel the trust of the African-American community — and possibly the president's. Most Chicago Public Schools students are minorities.
"There is total disappointment (in Emanuel)," she said. "I believe that Obama's been let down, too, he's just not going to say it."
Still others said they were supporting Emanuel because of his work on job creation, education and safer neighborhoods.
"Rahm has all (those) contacts and he is getting those corporations here, so he is giving people hope they can get a good job," said Willie King, a 56-year-old retired janitor.
On the campaign trail, Emanuel said his first term saw some tough decisions and payoffs, including budgets that didn't rely on property tax increases, drawing business to the city, getting a longer school day and raising the minimum wage.
He didn't shy away from going after his opponents either. At debates, he opponents, particularly Garcia for a 1980s vote on a property tax increase. Garcia said that the city was in fiscal crisis at the time.
Garcia, who got his start as an immigrant rights activist, had perhaps the most name recognition of the four challengers. He was a water commissioner under the late Chicago Mayor Harold Washington, the city's first black mayor. He then turned to statewide politics, serving two terms as a senator before he was elected Cook County commissioner.
Emanuel vowed to hit the campaign trail Wednesday morning, shaking hands at commuter-train stops.
"We will get back out there, talking to our friends and families and neighbors as they make a critical choice about who has the strength, who has the leadership, who has the ideas to move this great city forward," Emanuel said.