Rahm Emanuel, former two-term mayor of Chicago and White House Chief of Staff for President Barack Obama, offers a firsthand account of how cities, rather than the federal government, stand at the center of innovation and effective governance.
... some readers will see the book as an effort to recover space for a style of business-friendly liberalism increasingly beleaguered on the national scene ... Still, marshaling a host of fascinating case studies and drawing on the work of the political theorist Benjamin Barber and others, Emanuel makes a strong case for the vitality of local governance in an age of dysfunction ... Emanuel’s critics will find his treatments of his hugely controversial school closings and the police murder of Laquan McDonald evasive and unconvincing. More broadly, his 'progressive cities' framework fails to grapple fully with the way contemporary urban inequality is reproduced through the deeply embedded legacy of racist city-making — from redlining to racially disparate policing ... In an age of national irresponsibility, cities represent a vital resource. With its command of the details of urban governance and its manifest appreciation for what cities can offer, The Nation City helps us understand why Americans are increasingly looking to mayors for political leadership. But until its proponents engage fully with the dynamics of race and class that continue to shape American cities, the progressive cities framework will remain at best an aspiration and at worst a cover story.
Emanuel perhaps invents a new genre for mayoral tomes. He combines the look backwards at what happened and what might have been with a forward-looking manifesto that extends far beyond Chicago, Cook County or Illinois. Emanuel brags about what he considers his successes and downplays (or ignores) his shortcomings. More importantly, he makes an argument about the future of politics in America and the rest of the 'developed' world, which may prove to be true: Mayors matter more than presidents or prime ministers ... Emanuel’s approach has its flaws, but he makes a compelling argument that in our current political situation, local politics and the mayors who run cities large and small do indeed matter more than ever before ... The book lacks certain formal apparatus typical of serious writing: there’s no index, only a brief 'Selected Bibliography,' and no sources cited for quotations from other writers. Emanuel also directly quotes other mayors and politicians with whom he spoke; his readers must be generous and assume he took careful notes at the time ... Perhaps it’s just unrealistic to expect any politician to truly depict, much less grapple with, the arguments of defeated opponents or disappointed constituents ... Even for politically savvy Chicago readers, familiar with Emanuel’s record and fully opinionated about it one way or another, later sections of the book make a compelling, albeit primarily anecdotal, argument for Emanuel’s larger point ... While Emanuel’s prose won’t win any awards for suppleness or grace, the former mayor displays occasional flashes of a self-deprecating sense of humor ... Readers may or may not be impressed with everything Emanuel lines up in this book, but it should not be beyond us to see the solid argument he makes about the crucial unifying and energizing role of cities, and their mayors, in an era of national political divisiveness and paralysis.
... most of all, Emanuel touts his own achievements: renovating O’Hare Airport, altering the school system, and luring corporate headquarters downtown, among others. It’s a spun record, denuded of the controversy that marked much of his tenure, and predictably self-serving. Nevertheless, the book brims with the author’s passion for the city’s top job. At its best, Emanuel’s chronicle offers a revelatory view into how mayors run cities, and provokes readers to ponder whether cities really might save the world.