Afew hours before Kari Lydersen was to celebrate the publication of her new book, the provocatively titled "Mayor 1%: Rahm Emanuel and the Rise of Chicago's 99%," she was talking about how she had run into the mayor two days ago on the North Side.
"I handed him a copy of the book, and he took it," she said. "He didn't say a word."
Was she surprised?
Not really. "He didn't talk to me for this book either," she said.
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The San Diego native has been in the Chicago area since 1993, when she arrived to attend Northwestern University. She began her career working in the Midwest bureau of the Washington Post and later worked for the former Chicago News Cooperative, which supplied twice-weekly pages for the New York Times. She has written for the Chicago Reader, and is a contributing editor/blogger at In These Times and an instructor at Northwestern.
This book was born when she was approached by editors at Chicago-based Haymarket Books in September 2011. "At first, I didn't think he was an interesting enough person," she says. "But as his term unfolded, I changed my mind."
And that's a good thing, for as people begin to think and talk about the 2015 mayoral election, this book will provide essential knowledge for those who yearn to be informed voters. Lydersen is a marvelous reporter; also generous, tipping her hat to the other "dogged reporters" covering Emanuel. She writes with a smooth and to-the-point way with words. Though the book's title may imply an author with a leftist or progressive agenda, Lydersen mostly remains composed in print about things that might make one's blood boil.
She does dedicate "Mayor 1%" "(t)o the Chicago Mental Health Movement," but she could have added the Chicago Teachers Union, for those are the two entities with whom the mayor has had the most complex, contentious, damaging and telling relationships. Lydersen writes that "Emanuel appeared shocked and disgusted with the union's audacity, attacking them in a public relations campaign more reminiscent of a brutal electoral race than contract negotiations between two teams of public service."
There is a "brutal" election race here, too, Emanuel's all-but-forgotten 2002 Democratic primary campaign against former state Rep. Nancy Kaszak in the race for the 5th Congressional District seat formerly held by Rod Blagojevich.
That election — which Emanuel won — followed an eye-poppingly lucrative few years as an investment banker, though his qualifications beyond that so-called "golden Rolodex" of his were scant. From 1998 to 2002, he accumulated more than $18 million; among his deals 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."
It was during this time that he also became pals with investment banker Bruce Rauner, currently running in the Republican primary for governor. Some observers have suggested that if Rauner becomes our next governor, he will help smooth the way for the Chicago casino Emanuel wants.
Lydersen is terrific on background, telling us just enough but not too much about Emanuel's high school days at New Trier Township High School and time at Sarah Lawrence College; first forays into politics, as an operative and fundraiser for Richard M. Daley and Bill Clinton; chief of staff for President Barack Obama, and, finally, his relatively quick trip to the fifth floor at City Hall.
She finished the book in March but has been watching and, in her blog, writing about "this ongoing story" that will determine our city's future. On the day of his inauguration, Lydersen reminds us, Emanuel said forcefully, "We must face the truth."
Much of that truth is in the pages of this book. Like it or not, it is compelling and important reading.
Rick Kogan is a Tribune senior writer and columnist.
By Kari Lydersen, Haymarket, 220 pages, $16