When Kari Lydersen (Medill ’97) was approached about writing a book on Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel, she said conquering that task wasn’t at the top of her to-do list.
“Rahm Emanuel was interesting, but if I was going to take the time to write a book about someone, he wouldn’t be my first choice,” Lydersen said.
But Lydersen did write the book, titled “Mayor 1%: Rahm Emanuel and the Rise of Chicago’s 99%,” and she spoke about it Friday afternoon in Fisk Hall.
The talk with Lydersen, a Chicago-based reporter who works as a research assistant at Medill Watchdog, drew a crowd of about 35 students. Medill Watchdog sponsored the event.
Medill Watchdog director Rick Tulsky, who works closely with Lydersen, said her book on Emanuel (Communication ’85) fits in well with Watchdog’s investigative aims.
“We try to look at events going on in data and pay attention to city government and try to draw big picture ideas from that,” Tulsky said.
Lydersen, who has covered issues ranging from the environment to immigration in publications such as the Washington Post and the Chicago edition of The New York Times, talked about her reporting process and Chicago’s response to the first two years of Emanuel’s term.
In her book, Lydersen reveals the crux of the conflict between Emanuel and the trade unions and other groups he clashed with from early on in his first term. At the talk, she read an excerpt from “Mayor 1%,” in which the mayor left a celebration of Chicago’s 175th birthday early to avoid a woman protesting his closing of several mental health clinics.
“Early on, he was seen as someone who was a new start for Chicago, in both good and bad ways,” Lydersen said of Emanuel.
Lydersen referenced the ways Emanuel was “helping to make Chicago a thoroughly modern city” but said his widespread closings of public schools garnered the greatest backlash.
“The way Chicago was responding became the most interesting part of the story,” Lydersen said.
Lydersen finished her talk with a question-and-answer period, in which students and faculty members expressed interest in her reporting process and the future of Emanuel’s time as mayor.
Lydersen said she had to constantly remind herself to treat Emanuel fairly. Though she was not able to interview him in the process of writing “Mayor 1%,” Lydersen said it “didn’t really change the book.”
Medill senior Alyssa Howard, who works with Lydersen at Medill Watchdog, said she was impressed with the book’s balance.
“She looks at it from an interesting side, being in Chicago,” Howard said. “If you’re approaching it from a more national perspective, you don’t see that as much.”
Medill senior Madeleine May said she was excited by the focus on the Chicago government that Lydersen brought to campus.
“It was cool to bring some of Chicago politics into Northwestern, because I don’t think we get enough of that as students,” May said.
Lydersen ended the informal Q-and-A session by talking about what she would change if she had the chance to write the book over again.
“For one, I would talk to hundreds of more people,” Lydersen said. “There’s always tons of things I would do differently.”
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