Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, who has presided over the nation's third-largest city for 21 years, announced Tuesday that he will not seek re-election next year.

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CHICAGO — Mayor Richard M. Daley dropped the bomb at a routine news conference at City Hall on Tuesday. With no prelude or fanfare, Daley announced that he would not seek re-election when his term expires next year.

The shock waves spread across the city — which years ago nicknamed Daley, a Democrat, Mayor for Life — and all the way to Washington, where the White House chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, said earlier this year that he would like the job.

On Tuesday, Emanuel issued a statement honoring the mayor’s service. He did not say whether he intended to run. (The filing deadline is Nov. 30.)

For decades — for better and for worse — the Daleys have run Chicago: first, Richard J. Daley, the current mayor’s father, from 1955 to 1976, when he died in office, then Richard M. Daley, from 1989 to today. The day after Christmas, he will become the longest-serving mayor in city history, surpassing his father.

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Historians may see that as a theme. The younger Daley, 68, took a city riven by racial strife, patronage and widespread official corruption and, even if he failed to eliminate all those ills, improved it, some would say. The younger Daley promoted the city’s business, tourism, culinary and art industries in a way that positioned Chicago to compete with U.S. cities better known for such things, like New York and San Francisco.

“If you look at other major industrial cities in the Midwest, Chicago has really reinvented itself over and again,” said Cindi Canary, director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform. “It is a beautiful, world-class city, which is not to say it doesn’t suffer from great inequities and crime, or that the Daley administration hasn’t been touched by corruption. But on balance, we have been a city that has been able to thrive. There has been an urban renaissance here, and Mayor Daley played a very big role in that.”

He also tore down some of what his father built, sometimes literally. For instance, the first Daley constructed the high-rise public housing projects that became a model for the rest of the country. The second Daley began tearing down some of the largest projects — considering them a failed experiment in public housing — and many cities followed his example, too.

Despite both mayors’ administrations being plagued by corruption, both mayors are also credited with preventing Chicago from experiencing the ignominious slide that other Midwestern cities had, like Detroit, Cleveland or St. Louis.

The elder Daley built O’Hare International Airport, securing Chicago’s place as a national transportation hub in the modern era, as it had been in the age of railroads. The younger Daley expanded O’Hare, a project that continues to this day.

Last fall, Daley suffered what was perhaps his most significant recent defeat not in an election but when Chicago lost its bid to host the 2016 Olympic Summer Games.

Daley leaves no apparent political heirs. He was widely expected to seek a seventh term without serious opposition. But now that he is stepping down, some political experts expect to see a flood of contenders.

“One day I would like to run for mayor of the city of Chicago,” Emanuel, a former mayoral campaign aide, said during an April interview on “The Charlie Rose Show.”

Thomas J. Dart, the Cook County sheriff, is also a possible candidate.

Rep. Jesse L. Jackson Jr., who serves the South Side of Chicago and its suburbs, is known to have his eye on the post-Daley era of city politics, although Jackson has remained largely quiet since becoming entangled in the corruption trial of former Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich. Jackson did issue a statement Tuesday. He said Daley was leaving the city in poor fiscal shape.

Emanuel served as a member of Congress and as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the post from which he helped engineer the party’s takeover of the House of Representatives in 2006.

Daley said at his news conference that though the news media and others might seek some hidden reason for his decision not to run, there was none.

“In the end, this is a personal decision,” he said. “No more, no less.”

Additional information from Tribune Washington bureau.

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