Chicago Mayoral candidate Rahm Emanuel sits with family members as he awaits… (Tannen Maury / EPA )
Runner-up Gery Chico tonight called Rahm Emauel to acknowledge Emanuel's lead is insurmountable and he will be Chicago's next mayor.
"We've elected a mayor tonight," Chico told supporters. "I want with all of my heart for Rahm Emanuel to be successful as mayor. We need that, ladies and gentlemen."
While Emanuel has yet to declare victory, he was well above the 50 percent benchmark he needed to avoid a runoff election.
With 89 percent of precincts counted, Emanuel had 54.9 percent to 24.3 percent for Gery Chico.
City Clerk Miguel del Valle had 9.4 percent and former U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley Braun was at 8.7 percent.
Braun conceded defeat, saying she didn't know whether there'd be a runoff.
"I believe that hope flames eternal," she told supporters. "We will continue to try to inspire people, to get them engaged in government....I wish the victor in this race all the success in the taking of the reins of government."
Emanuel is holding his election night party at a Near West Side union hall. The Black Eyed Peas' "I Gotta Feeling" played in the background as early election results came in.
A small crowd cheered as returns showed Emanuel over 50 percent and leading competitors with a wide margin.
Emanuel and his family were gathered in a room above the hall's main floor. They sat on a small red couch as they watched returns come in on a flat screen television. Emanuel seemed giddy as he watched his lead grow.
At Chico's election night headquarters at a River North hotel, the crowd was subdued as results rolled in showing Emanuel with a commanding lead. The campaign sent U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez, a staunch supporter, to speak to reporters. Gutierrez said he was "upbeat" because early results did not show where votes had been counted. But campaign staffers acknowledged Chico was making plans to come downstairs and address supporters "pretty soon."
At Braun's campaign party at a South Side ballroom, a 10-man gospel chorus was on stage belting out a song with the chorus "We are the chosen generation."
Many in attendance turned away from the TV on one side of the room and clapped for the group or waved their hands to the music. Some held up smart phones to get quick videos of the performance.
A few dozen "Carol for Chicago" signs were stacked just outside the room for Braun's eventual appearance before a bank of news cameras. Some on the campaign were signaling it will be an early night.
Earlier today, the major contenders fanned out across the city on Election Day looking for last-minute votes.
Despite a tremendous amount of attention on the mayor's race and a slew of hotly-contested aldermanic races, election officials say turnout could be as low as 40 percent. That's far less than the 50 percent turnout officials were hoping for on Monday.
If no candidate scores a majority tonight, the top two finishers will square off for six more weeks of campaigning. A runoff election will be held to determine Chicago's next mayor.
Mayor Richard Daley, who is out of town today, isn't on the ballot for the first time since 1989. He'll leave office on May 16 when his successor is sworn in.
Emanuel is at a Near West Side union hall, Chico at a downtown hotel, Braun at a South Side ballroom and del Valle at a microbrewery.
About 150 turned out foir del Valle's election night party. State Sen. Iris Martinez, D-Chicago, said she was amazed by the low turnout.
"Why people are not more engaged the way they should be? It amazes me," she said.
"I think people are going through foreclosures, the bad economy. These could be all the affects of it," Martinez said. "People feel disengaged."
Chico, a former Daley chief of staff, spent the closing weeks of the contest working to erode what had been growing support for Emanuel and get into a runoff by ridiculing the "Rahm Tax." That's Emanuel's plan to reduce the city's home-rule sales tax but expand the tax base to unspecified services. Chico ripped the plan in TV ads and Emanuel put up his own spots to rebut the criticism.
In the final week, Chico ratcheted up his TV commercial criticism, contending Emanuel was pushing the sales-tax plan because "Rahm grew up in suburban safety and privilege" of the wealthy North Shore where higher taxes might be more acceptable than in working family neighborhoods.
Emanuel, who largely avoided addressing his opponents, called Chico "desperate" and countered "It's not what neighborhood you grew up in. It's whether you're going to fight for neighborhoods."
But Emanuel also began lowering expectations last weekend, acknowledging "it may take one or two bites of the apple" to become mayor.
Still, his camp pushed hard in the final days to close out a win in the race, keeping with the aura of inevitably it pushed. Emanuel used an extensive bankroll to run TV ads, deliver automated telephone messages and extol volunteers to get out the vote.