‘Mayor 1%’: Emanuel’s tenure strikes a chord and ignites a movement

“Mayor 1%,” Kari Lydersen’s new book on Rahm Emanuel and his time as Chicago mayor is being released this month. The book places him squarely in the camp that his critics have pegged him since he came into office: a member of the 1%, the obscenely wealthy, elite class called out by the Occupy Wall Street protest movement.

Thoughtful and well-researched, Lydersen’s book takes us from Emanuel’s childhood to his pivotal role in the Clinton White House and his behind-the-scenes maneuvering to pass bills like the North American Free Trade Act despite the opposition of unions and immigrant rights groups. Emanuel comes across as the quintessential New Democrat, more chummy with corporate leaders than community groups and looking to pass business-friendly policies at any cost.

What makes "Mayor 1%" (Haymarket Books) particularly compelling is Lydersen’s day-to-day chronicling of the movements and organizations that have stood up to Emanuel’s political philosophy in his first few years as mayor, from the Mental Health Movement to the Chicago Teachers Union.

The author of four books, Lydersen is a Chicago-based journalist who contributes to The Chicago Reporter and has worked in the Midwest bureau of the Washington Post.  The Chicago Reporter chatted with Lydersen recently about “Mayor 1%.”

Your book delves deeply into the first few years of Emanuel’s time in Chicago, but it also goes into his background as a legislator an investment banker. Why was it important to connect these roles?

Because it is the underpinning of the way he has governed so far in Chicago. His time in investment banking cemented his high finance connections and even more important than his connections are the way that he sees the private sector, and specifically the business, top-down, private sector approach. That’s what has been so problematic during his time as mayor. It shows a lot about his priorities and approach to governing. As mayor, you should have principles and involve the well-being of your constituents, and not just play the levers of power.

We're still not done with Emanuel's time in office. Why chronicle it now, rather than wait for a retrospective?

It was actually the publisher’s idea, Haymarket Books. It actually became more about his time as mayor than even they or I had planned, because it proved to be the most interesting. The book is a combination of look who we have in City Hall, and letting people know, if they have missed it so far, what is going on in terms of the resistance in Chicago.

How much of Rahm Emanuel’s time as mayor has to do with his personality and how much has to do with the political priorities of being a New Democrat?

I don’t think his personal personality as opposed to his political personality with define or shape Chicago in the way that the Daleys did, but I think his personality is part of the problem with the way he governs. Even aside from the whole New Democrat philosophy, it’s his way or the highway, and he is so impatient he doesn’t take the time to deliberate or listen to other voices

I hear all the time that Rahm Emanuel has been making people nostalgic for Richard M. Daley, who preceded him. Are you nostalgic for Daley?

I was sad to see Daley go because it was so fascinating to watch what he does and what kind of responses he provokes, in a sort of detached intellectual way. But if you look at the facts, he was selling out the city more than people allow themselves to remember. That nostalgia is really misplaced. He did most of the same things as Rahm, but he did them in a more folksy way.

From the prominence it gets in the book, the Mental Health Movement clearly touched you. Tell me why you feel it’s so instrumental to understanding Emanuel's time as mayor.

 I think the Mental Health Movement activists are sort of the perfect foil, really just kind of the opposite of him because he has so much power and privilege in almost every possible way, and it’s a diverse group but a lot of the members are lower income. They rely on mental health services, which makes them vulnerable in that sense. They are saying my needs are just as important and have just as much value as those of millionaire donors. As a group, they are wonderful, truly grassroots, truly collective. When they are in their meetings and you see them together, it’s clear they care so much about each other.

What kind of effect do you hope the book will have?

I hope it lets more people know basically that there is a growing organizing movement to sort of take back or shift the direction of the city. It can serve as some kind of tools for groups that are organizing. It’s one more little voice to the chorus of people calling for a safety net and opportunities and decent jobs for regular people.

The last few weeks have seen the Take Back Chicago rally and a start to calls for a different political future for Chicago. What do you think of these?

I’ve been following what some of these groups have been doing for years. I think it’s really positive and exciting that this movement and group [were] formally launched. The campaign is obviously still in the relatively early stages, and it’s more than just about the election. There are some really amazing and brilliant leaders out there, and the swell of discontent and desire for change is certainly big, and there is fertile ground for them to tap into it.



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  • So you want to take back Chicago?

    Who will you give it back to? The same political ilk that birthed Rahm and Barack.

    So then you want to take back Chicago?

    And on and on it goes: the definition of insanity, not helped by "muckrakers" who love to go to bed with government power, the power aimed squarely at the people.

    Come back when you really want to take back Chicago. You are simply not believable.

  • I don't know how to read this except through a lens of madness. What is it you want to see!?! Tax rates have been doubled in Illinois for individuals and raised 67% for businesses. Calmly now, add together all the taxes one pays on income tax, property, sales, utilities, phone, gas, and luxury on car rental, hotel, and even soda downtown.

    Business gives people jobs, do you want to drive it all away? Do you want communism? Oblivion? What are you after, 90% tax on every dollar? A life time in the womb?

    Please grow up, and quit looking at life as a victim. This state and city have been run into the ground by corrupt union and self-titled liberal Democrats. This thinking is like a new 'liberal Mccarthyism' that blacklists anyone smart enough to build wealth!!

    This is why zombies are so popular these days, it's the new dominate party!

  • The real question is whether the author has a candidate with a real plan other than to buy votes, and can overcome the about 57% vote Emanuel got the last time. Carol Mosely Braun was not their or your savior. If the leaders are so brilliant, where is their candidate?

  • Avoiding the reality that cities need to be financially solvent only feeds delusion among those who want to 'take back the city.' It's true that Rahm is a one percenter whose campaign funding comes almost exclusively from out-of-town elites. But he is worldly enough to know that the literal and figurative buck matters, and so until Chicago's finances are sound the city's at-risk and disadvantaged are in danger of greater losses. The danger of Rahm is that he is an entrenched member of the Chicago machine now in charge of Democratic Party politics, which brooks no dissent or challenge, in effect weakening democracy. I have no nostalgia for the obviously corrupt Daley. But I fear the insidious nature of elites buying favor with each other without regard for the body politic. Take a look at who's donated $5 million to Rahm so far.

  • If Preckwinkle decides to run Rahm is on the curb.

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