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Rahm Emanuel Says He Is Not Resigning—But What If He Did?

By Rachel Cromidas in News on Dec 3, 2015 6:28PM

via Getty Images

Though calls for Mayor Rahm Emanuel's resignation have been ringing across the Internet and in the streets in the wake of the release of the video of Laquan McDonald's fatal shooting, Rahm has been very clear that he's not going anywhere.

"We have a process. It's called the election," Emanuel said Wednesday. "The voters spoke. I'll be held responsible for my actions and the decisions I made."

But what if he did resign? We looked into what could happen in this scenario.

If Rahm were to resign—or the mayor's office were to be vacated for any reason—the city's vice mayor would be next in line to become interim mayor. The vice mayor would hold down the mayor's post until the next municipal election, or until the City Council could elect a new acting mayor from among their ranks, according to state election rules. And as our fresh memories of Rahm's narrow run-off election earlier this year remind us, the next city election is nearly two years away.

Of course, to some critics anyone would be better than Rahm at this point. But, unless you're a big fan of the City Council's decision-making, you might want to be careful what you wish for this holiday season. Whether Rahm stays in office or not, it will be a long wait before the voters have a say again.

Illinois Board of Elections spokesman Jim Tenuto clarified what would happen since there are over three years left in Rahm's term:

"If there are at least 28 months left in the term and if it happens at least 130 days before the next general municipal election, then the vacancy will be temporarily filled by the vice mayor and then a member of the City Council until the next municipal election, which is 2017."

It's happened before; when the late mayor Harold Washington died of a heart attack while in office in 1987, then-vice mayor David Orr temporarily took over. He held the position for about a week, until the City Council elected longtime alderman Eugene Sawyer as acting mayor. The late Sawyer was mayor for nearly two years after that. (His son, Roderick Sawyer, is currently alderman of the 6th Ward.)

Didn't know Chicago had a vice mayor? Neither did we, but (thankfully?) it's a familiar face: 42nd Ward Ald. Brendan Reilly was appointed vice mayor last May. It's little more than a ceremonial title, the Sun-Times assured us at the time...unless Rahm vacated his seat at City Hall.

For those unfamiliar with Reilly, he's been a downtown alderman since 2007, he ran unopposed this year and he is considered a close ally of the mayor. Reilly's known for a more politically conservative voting record, which got Ben Joravsky of the Reader to appoint him to the imaginary Bruce Rauner Caucus. As a member of the City Council's budget committee, he slammed progessive mayoral challenger Jesus "Chuy" Garcia's policy platform as "baloney."

And for those wondering whether it's still too late for Chuy, the short answer is, yes. The City Council—the same City Council known for virtually always rubber stamping the mayor's policies—is expected under state law to choose one of their own as acting mayor (the same way they approved Reilly as vice mayor in the first place). That person would serve out Rahm's term until the 2017 municipal election. Chuy could still run for mayor during the next mayoral race, but that's the earliest he'd be able to throw his hat back in the game.

Kate Shepherd contributed reporting.