BFIA Book Review: “Mayor 1%"

Mayor 1 percent-cover_5_3-front.sm_“Mayor 1%”  by Kari Lydersen

In Nov. 2011, Iowa Democrats held their annual Jefferson Jackson dinner, their biggest event of the year attended by thousands of party leaders from across the state. The keynote that year was Rahm Emanuel, the newly elected Mayor of Chicago, also former senior advisor for President Clinton and Chief of Staff for President Obama.

Touting his credentials, then-state party leader Sue Dvorsky said, ““Mayor Emanuel has proven to be one of the great advocates for Democratic values and middle class opportunity throughout his service in both the Clinton and Obama administrations, as a leader in Congress, and now at the helm of the great city of Chicago.” [Read full transcript of Emanuel’s JJ remarks here]

Dvorsky couldn’t have been more wrong in describing Rahm this way, but one could hardly blame her. Very little up to that time had been written that was critical of the wunderkind who emerged into the national spotlight during the Clinton years. Pundits may have rightfully described Rahm as a cuss-wielding, politically-savvy lobbyist and whip, but few actually surveyed Emanuel’s public service from the vantage point of the poor or of a working class person oppressed by Emanuel’s neo-liberal Democrat Party policies.

But if Emanuel was invited to the JJ dinner to raise money, as the JJ dinner is meant to do, then Rahm was their man. It was this ability that first attracted the attention of Clinton in the early 90s, and which is well documented in the recently published book, “Mayor 1%” by Chicago journalist Kari Lydersen. The thoroughly-researched portrait that emerges is not of a populist advocate for democracy and that elusive mythical thing, the “Middle Class”, but of a cunning and cut-throat power broker, representing the investment class with a disturbing detachment and growing inaccessibility to his Chicago constituents.

The book spans Emanuel’s rise to power from his childhood in the wealthy Chicago suburbs and ends with him rebidding then-union janitor jobs at O’Hare Airport from the barely livable wage of $15.45 an hour down to $11.90 an hour with a non-union mob-connected firm.

Do not mistake this book as a partisan political lambast, à la Ann Coulter. Rather, Lydersen’s training and decades of experience as a professional journalist with the Washington Post populate the pages of the book with heart-wrenching first-hand interviews and dozens of pages of citations.

As Lydersen states in the introduction, “Although this is a book about Rahm Emanuel, it is also a story about organizations – like the Mental Health Movement and the Chicago Teachers union – made up of regular people who are finding it harder and harder to secure basic rights including housing, health care, and a voice in their governing institutions.”

The book speaks for itself (order it online through the non-profit, progressive book publisher Haymarket Books).  Some of the stories covered include:

  • How Rahm Emanuel earned $18 million during two years as an investment banker between the Clinton and Obama years
  • Was a key architect of NAFTA
  • Established the Infrastructure Trust that proposes to finance and manage municipal projects by a non-elected board that raises money through complicated financial mechanisms rather than the traditional bond market
  • Closed half of Chicago’s Mental Health Clinics and more than 50 Chicago Public Schools, almost all in black and Latino neighborhoods
  • Waged a contract battle against the Chicago Teachers Union leading to a week-long strike – first in more than twenty years
  • Passed constitutionally questionable city ordinance curtailing civil liberties during NATO Summit in Chicago.


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