IT SEEMED LIKE a done deal, almost from the start.

Chicago newspapers began reporting rumors early last month that Philadelphia's top cop, Charles Ramsey, was going to be a prime candidate to run Chicago's Police Department under Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel.

It took just a few days for Emanuel to say publicly that Ramsey would be a good fit - no, a great fit - and for Ramsey to admit that he was intrigued by the idea of going home, of bringing his storied career full circle.

And that was that.

For a little while, anyway.

Now you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone in this city who doesn't believe that the commissioner is as good as gone.

"Yeah," Ramsey said during an interview last night, "most people already think I'm going. They've already got your bags packed."

The speculation has been constant - in the media, on the streets and within the always-gossipy Police Department.

It's worn on him and his family, he admitted. But it's going to come to an end soon.

"I think there's going to be a decision made," Ramsey said. "It's just a tough choice. You have two great cities. You have one great mayor, and one who I believe is going to be a great mayor."

Last month, he was quick to point out that he had not been offered the superintendent's job, that a lot of other qualified candidates were out there and that he had spoken only briefly by phone with Emanuel.

From there, Emanuel's courtship seemed to intensify. He and Ramsey reportedly met in person, outside of Chicago, to talk about the job. Emanuel supposedly sent flowers to Ramsey's wife.

"I don't want to get into a lot of detail about that," Ramsey said. "It's a personal decision. That's what it boils down to."

There was no mention, this time, about how it all could be much ado about nothing.

Earlier yesterday, Mayor Nutter discussed how he's tried to handle a situation loaded with conflicting emotions.

On the one hand: "I'm fighting for the city," Nutter said, noting how he and other city leaders have told Ramsey in every way imaginable how much they admire him, how much they love what he brings to the city personally and professionally.

On the other: "It's tugging at his heart," Nutter said. "I think if any other city had reached out to him, the conversation would have been over in minutes."

Nutter said Ramsey has been straightforward and honest with him as the rumors about him leaving have evolved from vague to seemingly concrete.

The mayor, in turn, said he's "tried not to be a pain in the ass" with questions about how this will all play out.

Nutter seemed to hedge a bit when asked if he believed that Emanuel had flat-out offered Ramsey the superintendent's job.

"There's been some back and forth," he said, "but I'm not sure at what level it becomes a formal offer."

Others in city government and law enforcement spoke wistfully of Ramsey's tenure in Philadelphia.

City Councilman Jim Kenney said he was touched by the way Ramsey has supported relatives of five police officers who have been killed in the line of duty since 2008.

"He's truly a person who's concerned about others," he said. "He's a terrific person. If he leaves, we have to give him a nice farewell."

John Apeldorn, president of the Citizens Crime Commission of Delaware Valley, said Ramsey "did a fantastic job, especially as an outsider. He solidified the department, and took action when he had to."

Kenney said he also was impressed by the way Ramsey has overseen a drop in the city's violent-crime numbers while also dealing with the department's ongoing corruption problems.

Neither Kenney nor Apeldorn, a former Philly homicide captain, said he could think of a way to convince Ramsey to stay here.

"If Ramsey's heart is set on going back home," Apeldorn said, "that's a tough sell, no matter what you offer."

"Philly's a tough town," Ramsey said, "but once people open their arms to you, you're in. It's one of the good things about the city, that I love about the city."