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Mayor Rahm: The mayor for some of us

Kari Lydersen's new book explains how Emanuel earned the nickname "Mayor 1 Percent."

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By this time we've seen enough of Rahm Emanuel as mayor of Chicago to know how he does business—that is, how he says he's investing in public education as he guts it, or how he claims to be cleaning up the city's books as he hands out corporate subsidies and puts public assets on the auction block.

But you don't have to take my word for it. Kari Lydersen, a painstakingly fair and objective local reporter, documents these trends in what's the first book on Emanuel's mayoral tenure.

I emphasize fair and objective because the book comes at Mayor Emanuel from the left, as suggested by its title: Mayor 1%: Rahm Emanuel and the Rise of Chicago's 99%. And since I know my share of leftists, I can assure you that most members of this political tribe start foaming at the mouth at the mere mention of the mayor's name.

I for one have entered a 12-step program to avoid working up a lather while discussing the DePaul basketball arena deal.

Yet Lydersen, a prolific writer whose work has appeared in the Washington Post, the New York Times, and the Reader, remains remarkably dispassionate as she chronicles the mayor's efforts to close schools, fire teachers, bring NATO to town, shutter mental health clinics, and privatize city operations, to name but a few highlights of his first two years in office.

"I really do keep an open mind in my reporting," Lydersen says. "All these issues are really complicated. I didn't want to do a book that was just bashing Rahm. And I don't think it does."

Still, Lydersen says the mayor has earned the nickname in the title because he's shown a disinterest, bordering on disdain, for the vast majority of people affected by his cuts and closings.

She says her own "watershed moment" came during the budget process last year, when Emanuel scrapped the traditional round of public hearings in the neighborhoods. In their place, a group of progressive aldermen held their own meetings.

"That was when I truly felt outraged as an individual citizen and human being at the way his administration conducts itself," Lydersen says. "I watched as people with disabilities went to great lengths to make it to the progressive caucus hearings to make their heartfelt points, while Rahm was absent."

Fast paced and well researched, her book starts by revisiting his high school days at New Trier West, where Rahm and his younger brother, Ari, beat the crap out of a kid named Alan Goldsher just because they could.

Incidentally, I believe teachers at every school in America should assign Goldsher's account of the beatings, published in the Forward, as part of the curriculum in teenage bullying.

Lydersen's book then follows Emanuel's career as he rose from Democratic fund-raiser to Clinton White House aide to congressman to chief of staff for President Obama to, finally, mayor of Chicago.

The man has as much determination and chutzpah as anyone alive, yet he uses it all on wimpy policies that largely preserve the status quo.

Most of his political battles foretell his fights as mayor. It's pretty obvious that Emanuel concluded early in his career that since progressives were probably going to vote for Democrats no matter what, he really didn't have to pay any attention to them. And he didn't, as he cut deal after deal with the right.

Lydersen recounts how he helped water down President Obama's national health plan. And then raged at anyone—including his older brother, Ezekiel—who dared to criticize the president for not passing a genuine single-payer plan.

"I'm sure there are a lot of people sitting in the shade at the Aspen Institute, my brother being one of them, who will tell you what the ideal plan is," Emanuel said. "Great, fascinating. You have the art of the possible measured against the ideal."

At the risk of having the Nation terminate my subscription, I must concede that Emanuel makes a pretty good point.

Actually, even lefties have to admit the guy's got a way with words. And Lydersen does a great job of gathering some of Emanuel's greatest quotes, most of which involve the words "fuck" or "fucking."

Throughout her book, Lydersen gets at the heart of the paradox of Rahm: the man has as much determination, will, and chutzpah as anyone alive, yet he uses it all on wimpy policies that largely preserve the status quo. What a waste.

In perhaps the most informative chapter of Mayor 1%, Cashing In, Lydersen writes about the years from 1998 to 2002, after Emanuel left the Clinton White House and before he was elected congressman from a north-side district.

That's when he utilized his "golden Rolodex" to rake in more than $18 million as an investment banker. Among the deals he helped put together was "the purchase of the home alarm company SecurityLink from SBC Communications, then run by his longtime friend and former White House colleague Bill Daley."

That deal also involved investment banker Bruce Rauner, a Republican now running in the primary for governor.

Should Rauner become our next governor, there's a good chance he'll give Emanuel the casino he wants—which the mayor will probably build in the South Loop as part of that DePaul arena deal.

Man, don't get me started.

I was really hoping to read Mayor Emanuel's exchanges with Lydersen, if only because her sharp questions might provoke some entertaining quotes.

Lydersen says she sent the mayor's press office a list of the topics she wanted to discuss, including "the mayor's relationship with organized labor," the clinic closings, and the "allocation of TIF dollars and privatization."

But, alas, Mayor Emanuel declined to be interviewed.

In fact, this book could be subtitled The Book Mayor Rahm Didn't Want You to Read!

Well, that's not 100 percent accurate. But it's definitely more accurate than his ever-shifting explanations for closing dozens of schools.

That just goes to show how things have deteriorated in just two short years. Even I got a five-minute interview when Emanuel was running for mayor.

Of course, he got pissed off at my questions and hung up on me. As far as I can tell, he's not talked to any writer even remotely connected with the left ever since.

Sorry, guys—it's all my fault.

In any event, I urge everyone to read Lydersen's book. Over the last few months, many Chicagoans have told me they didn't realize who they were voting for when they cast a ballot for Emanuel. Thanks to Lydersen, they'll have no excuse in 2015.

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