The former two-term mayor of Chicago (2011-2019) and chief of staff for Barack Obama pens an eloquent tribute to the potential benefits of mayoral influence.
Given his long history of public service, Emanuel (co-author: The Plan: Big Ideas for America, 2006), now a contributor to the Atlantic, could have penned a traditional memoir; instead, he focuses on duty and service rather than his own track record. The book is part memoir, part sociological study, and part road map to readers who may aspire to political office in the future. In these deeply partisan times characterized by widespread gridlock at the federal level, Emanuel argues that mayoral power, even if used via the “bully pulpit,” can be more effective than the federal institutions that have failed in even their most basic responsibilities to their constituents. Sure, the author takes a few swipes at Donald Trump, noting that he dislikes cities because they represent qualities that he lacks: “They are progressive, smart, dynamic, inclusive, climate-aware, healthy, innovative and diverse, among other things.” However, the narrative is far from a political screed and more of a manifesto about how communities can take care of themselves by concentrating efforts on the local level. After a brief history of mayoral influence in the United States, Emanuel offers microportraits of mayors who are changing their communities for the good worldwide, including Pete Buttigieg (South Bend, Indiana), Mick Cornett (Oklahoma City), and Sadiq Khan (London), as well as leaders in New Orleans, Houston, and Milwaukee. These men and women continue to meet their challenges head-on and seek solutions through innovation, partnerships, and civic cooperation. While it’s true that most of the featured leaders are left-leaning progressives, the author also dedicates a chapter to fiscally and socially conservative mayors who are doing their jobs well.
Emanuel has his detractors—who doesn’t?—but he shines a compelling spotlight on that most elusive of ideals: hope.