|Past mayors of Chicago on display in the outer office of the mayor, 5th floor, City Hall|
Roswell B. Mason. Monroe Heath. Thomas Hoyne...
Most of the 53 men and one woman who were mayor Chicago before Rahm Emanuel are not cherished in the hearts and minds of the grateful city they once served.
Hempstead Washburne. William E. Dever. Frank J. Corr....
They're barely remembered at all—and no, the Washburne Trade Academy wasn't named for the former mayor. Different Washburne.
So with Emanuel's surprise announcement Tuesday that he will not seek a third term, the immediate question is: where in the pantheon Chicago mayors will history place Emanuel? How will he be remembered? With respect? Contempt? Or do the waters of oblivion close over him?
The short answer is: that depends.
Most Chicago mayors served briefly and were forgotten swiftly. The city initially elected its mayors to a one-year, then a two-year term, and the first 22 mayors each served just one. Then Francis Sherman, mayor from 1841 to 1842, broke tradition and won a second term 20 years after he left office, then a third, making him both the city's 5th and 23rd mayor.
In terms of longevity, Emanuel's eight years in office puts him easily into the top 10, behind Carter Harrison Sr. (8 1/2 years), his son, Carter Harrison Jr. and William Hale Thompson (12 years apiece), the under-appreciated Edwin J. Kelly (14 years) and the Daleys, Richard J. and Richard M., at 21 and 22 years respectively.
We're biased toward our own times, lending them more significance than they ultimately merit in the sweep of history. Eugene Sawyer is remembered today because many living Chicagoans remember him. It is a safe bet that his two years in office in the late '80s will not reverberate down the ages, the way that most Chicagoans do not generally know that one mayor, Carter Harrison Sr., was assassinated in his own home, two days before the end of the 1893 World's Columbian Fair.
Where does Emanuel fit?
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