CHICAGO – Former White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel began campaigning for Chicago mayor on Monday with the standard fare — greeting surprised commuters at a downtown train station, listening to voters' ideas for improving the city and posing for cell phone photos.
But in announcing his candidacy on YouTube and launching a campaign Facebook page, Emanuel signaled he'd also be using a strategy he helped craft to such great effect for his former boss, President Barack Obama, by galvanizing support among young voters through near constant contact via online postings, text messages and e-mails.
With a small army of television news crews in tow, Emanuel engaged commuters at a downtown elevated train station, spoke to diners at a South Side restaurant and shook hands with pedestrians in the bustling Pilsen neighborhood. He leaned in close when voters spoke and appeared to concentrate on what they were telling him.
Many said he had their support.
"I know he's a good politician," said Frederick Childress, a 58-year-old retired Chicago Housing Authority employee on the South Side who plans to vote for Emanuel. "He was a good White House chief of staff. He's for the people."
Maria Martinez, 21, who hugged Emanuel at the train station on her way to her sales job downtown, dismissed the talk she's heard about Emanuel as an outsider.
"I still say he's from Chicago," she said. "He's here, isn't he?"
But there were also signs of hurdles Emanuel has to overcome if he is to have a chance at becoming mayor.
In Pilsen, which is predominantly Hispanic, a group of parents protesting the planned demolition of a field house they've been using as a library briefly surrounded Emanuel's car. He'd told them he'd listen to them, but hadn't, the protesters complained.
At the train station, one man called Emanuel a political "fixer" who "sold out" liberal Democrats when he joined Obama's administration.
And while most messages on his new Facebook page were positive, there were also some from people who were skeptical or downright hostile toward Emanuel.
Some were critical of his role in the Obama administration. Others wondered if he was more concerned about landing himself a job than he was for the city. And some suggested that after being away from Chicago for so long, he was ineligible to run for mayor — an argument that one city elections official said is likely without merit.
Emanuel seemed to recognize that his job, at least now, is to reconnect with the city. On a video in his newly minted website, ChicagoforRahm.com, he said he plans to make plenty of stops around the city.
"As I prepare to run for mayor, I'm going to spend the next few weeks visiting our neighborhoods — at grocery stores, L stops, bowling alleys and hot dog stands," Emanuel said. "I want to hear from you — in blunt Chicago terms — what you think about our city, and how the next mayor and you can make it better."
On Monday morning, Emanuel was dressed much as he was in the two-minute video in which he sat at a desk wearing a white shirt with an open collar and a dark jacket. Behind him is a photo of his family and several books.
In making the announcement in a YouTube video, Emanuel appears to be following in the online footsteps of Obama, who used social networking sites, mass e-mailing and text messaging to get through to young voters.
Emanuel's website offers several options for receiving updates, including e-mail and text, and more than 15,000 Facebook users had "liked" his page by Monday morning.
Lori Goldberg, an Emanuel spokeswoman, said the online video was an attempt to reach as many people as possible. Emanuel plans to make "a more formal announcement" after the November election.
"By having the website up, it also allows people to communicate with him," Goldberg said.
Bruce Newman, professor of marketing at DePaul University, called the online announcement "a clever move."
"(Emanuel's) ability to communicate via the social media will be critical to his success," Newman said. "The voter in today's world is tuning in to a whole different level of communication."
But other political analysts said the online approach won't work for all voters.
"This is going to be a Generation X campaign with Facebook, Twitter and all that ... but you should never forget the power of friend talking to friend, neighbor talking to neighbor," said Tom Manion, a longtime political operative who directed Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley's first re-election campaign in 1991.
Indeed, one of the challenges facing Emanuel in a mayoral run is reconnecting with Chicago voters after his time in Washington. Emanuel highlighted his ties to Chicago in the video Sunday, noting his three terms representing a North Side district in Congress before serving as Obama's chief of staff.
"It was a great honor to work for (Obama), but I'm glad to be home," Emanuel said.
Emanuel's website says his family's home is in Chicago's Ravenswood neighborhood. But a tenant recently re-signed a lease for the home, leaving Emanuel to rent a condo closer to downtown, Goldberg said.
She said his three children will stay in Washington to finish the school year.
Daley announced last month that he would not seek a seventh term as mayor.
Emanuel joins a crowded field of Democrats who have announced or hinted that they're running. Among them are Chicago School Board president and close Daley ally Gery Chico, Chicago City Clerk Miguel del Valle, Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart and state Sen. James Meeks, who's also the pastor of a church in the city's South Side.
Before Emanuel's announcement Sunday, Chico called on him to release details about his dealings with former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich's administration in regard to the U.S. Senate seat once held by Obama.
Blagojevich will be retried next year on federal charges that allege he schemed to sell the seat after his first trial ended in a mistrial. Emanuel was not called to testify and hasn't been accused of wrongdoing.
Associated Press Writer Karen Hawkins contributed to this report.