CHICAGO (FOX 32/AP/FOX NEWS) - Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced he will not seek re-election in the 2019 Chicago mayoral race in an unscheduled announcement on Tuesday.
“As much as I love this job and will always love this city and its residents, I’ve decided not to seek re-election,” Emanuel said at a press conference on Tuesday. “This has been the job of a lifetime, but it is not a job for a lifetime.”
Emanuel was first elected mayor of Chicago in 2011, winning 55 percent of the vote in a four candidate field. He won re-election in 2015 in a runoff against Jesus "Chuy" Garcia.
Emanuel was a Democratic congressman and chief of staff to President Barack Obama before becoming mayor in 2011. He followed Richard M. Daley, who was mayor for more than 20 years.
Obama praised Emanuel in a statement following his announcement: "With record job growth and record employment over his terms in office, Chicago is better and stronger for his leadership, and I was a better President for his wise counsel at a particularly perilous time for our country."
While he came into office with high hopes, Chicago’s high murder rate and an increase in violence soured many residents to his administration. Emanuel tried to fend off the attacks while calming an alarmed electorate, but the violence only fueled the calls for political change in the February election.
“What happened over the weekend is absolutely horrific and unacceptable. It’s another tragic weekend in Chicago, and unfortunately, we’ve had too many of them,” former Chicago Public Schools CEO and mayoral candidate Paul Vallas said after a bloody weekend that left a dozen people dead and another 62 wounded, according to the Chicago Tribune. “There is no substitution for providing the police resources we need to close this gap.”
Emanuel also led the effort to conduct the largest mass closing of neighborhood schools in American history and is credited with helping to stabilize the city's finances through politically unpopular increases in taxes and fees.
Emanuel's surprise announcement comes the day before the start of one of the biggest police-shooting trials in the history of Chicago -- the murder trial of police officer Jason Van Dyke. The release of a dashcam video two years ago of the white officer shooting black teenager Laquan McDonald 16 times in 2014 drew the sharpest criticism of Emanuel in his two terms as mayor.
Many questioned whether his office delayed releasing the video to lessen political damage on Emanuel. The trial is expected to bring added scrutiny of how the city, and Emanuel, dealt with the case.
"Imagine this trial is starting and what happened is going to get rehashed over and over and over again while you are in campaign mode,' said Delmarie Cobb, a media and political consultant and a vocal critic of the mayor.
David Axelrod, a friend of Emanuel's who worked with him in President Barack Obama's White House, disagreed. He said Emanuel told him of his decision not to run over the weekend.
"I think he was aware of the timing of the trial, and he was also aware of what he did and didn't do. And I think he was comfortable about that," Axelrod said. "His concerns ... were about his own level of energy and freshness."
A verdict in the officer's favor or a hung jury could prompt another crisis in the city, angering many Chicagoans, inviting large protests and creating a volatile political atmosphere.
No matter how the trial ends, Emanuel's legacy as mayor will likely be tied to the case. The release of the video led to a Department of Justice investigation of Chicago police, culminating in a damning report last year that found widespread civil rights violations.
After the report, he vowed to carry out sweeping police reforms, which has already included fitting all patrol officers with body cameras and non-lethal stun guns.
Chicago's violent crime drew national attention throughout Emanuel's second term, with the number of shootings and homicides climbing to levels not seen in nearly two decades and exceeding the bloodshed of any other U.S. city. The number of slayings in each of the last two years was more than twice the total of Los Angeles and New York combined.
The mayor clashed several times with President Donald Trump over the gun violence. Soon after becoming president, Trump tweeted that, "If Chicago doesn't fix the horrible 'carnage' going on ... I will send in the Feds!" Emanuel said he welcomed federal help but cautioned against the strictly "tough and rough" approach Trump seemed to advocate.
Emanuel was also besieged on the national level with Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, blaming Emanuel and decades of "one party Democratic rule" for the violence in a series of tweets.
The former New York mayor also tweeted his support for mayoral candidate and former Chicago police Superintendent Garry McCarthy, a Democrat, referring to him as "Jerry" and calling him a "policing genius."
Eleven other challengers have also announced their candidacies. They include Cook County Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown, president of the Chicago Police Board Lori Lightfoot, Chicago principals association President Troy LaRaviere, activist Ja'Mal Green, businessman Willie Wilson, former CEO of Chicago Public Schools Paul Vallas, Northwestern professor and tech entrepreneur Neal Sales-Griffin, policy consultant Amara Enyia, former Assistant States Attorney Jerry Joyce Jr., former aldermanic candidate and attorney John Kozlar, and pharmaceutical technician and DePaul student Matthew Roney.
The election is scheduled for Feb. 26, 2019.
Emanuel has been a profile writer's dream, from his time as a ballet dancer, to the loss of part of a finger while operating a meat-slicing machine at a deli where he once worked. Obama enjoyed linking the incident with Emanuel's fondness for profanity by joking that the loss of his middle finger "rendered him mute for a while." Emanuel once sent a pollster a dead fish, which helped earn him the nickname "Rahmbo."
His battle with the teachers union led to a strike in 2012 - the first in a quarter century. To shore up the city's bleak financial situation, he was willing to do something no American mayor had ever done before: close 50 schools at once.
The mayor several times referred to his family Tuesday, noting that his three kids are now in college. But he stopped short of saying family considerations drove his decision.
"Politicians always say they're leaving office to spend more time with their family," he said. "My kids were smart enough to see that coming and scattered to the two coasts. So as of the other day, we are now empty nesters."
Emanuel grew up in the ritzy Chicago suburb of Wilmette, the son of an Israeli physician who moved to the United States. His start in politics came after college, when he worked for Sen. Paul Simon's 1984 Senate campaign and Daley's run for mayor in 1989.
Then he went to work for a little-known Arkansas governor who wanted to be president.
His fundraising skills helped keep Bill Clinton's campaign afloat during some rocky times, particularly the scandal over whether he had slept with Gennifer Flowers.
Clinton made him his political director in the new administration, but internal tensions led to his comeuppance a year later, when he was demoted to a policy adviser.
Midway through Clinton's second term, Emanuel left for Chicago to work in investment banking. The firm he joined was soon sold, and Emanuel made millions, giving him the financial security to get back into politics.
President Clinton along with political leaders in Illinois reacted to Emanuel's decision Tuesday to not seek a third term.
President Clinton praised Emanuel for his efforts to improve academics for Chicago children.
"From the earliest days of my presidential campaign over a quarter-century ago, through my time in the White House; his service in Congress; as Chief of Staff to President Obama; and for eight vital years as Mayor, Rahm Emanuel has served with vision, purpose, principle, and impact," Clinton said in a statement. "Rahm keeps score the right way: by the number of lives changed for the better—the number of children getting pre-kindergarten; the number of young people going to community college tuition-free; and the number of new jobs and new businesses. He is proof that if you focus on the trend lines, not just the headlines, a public leader can make a lasting positive difference."
U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) released the following statement:
"Rahm's record of public service spans Congress, the White House, and the fifth floor of City Hall in Chicago," Durbin said. "I have worked closedly with him at every level jof his public career. I always knew a call from Rahm was an invitation to join him in a bold, ambitious effort to make life better for those he served. It has been my honor to join him in these great ventures. Rahm has left his mark and I wish him and Amy the best in the days ahead."
Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle released a statement on Twitter thanking Emanuel for his service.
"I was surprised by Mayor Emanuel's announcement this morning that he has decided not to seek re-election," the statement read. "I want to thank him for leading our city for the past eight years and also for his service to the nation - his time in Congress and as Chief of Staff to President Obama. Being mayor of the nation's third-largest city is extraordinarily difficult and all-consuming. I wish him and Amy well in their future endeavors."
FoxNews.com and the Associated Press contributed to this report.