Politics and honesty don’t go hand-in-hand, typically speaking, but the mayor of Chicago certainly didn’t hold back Wednesday afternoon, at least in regard to his preparedness to participate in the One Book One Northwestern lecture series.
“Let me be blunt and frank,” he said to a packed Ryan Auditorium. “I have not read this book by the author. That’s your responsibility, not mine.”
Rahm Emanuel (Speech ’85) spoke Wednesday afternoon as part of the One Book series. The book up for discussion this year is Medill senior lecturer Alex Kotlowitz’s Never a City So Real, which chronicles issues like race, immigration, religion, class and politics in Chicago through personal profiles.
“Since the book is all about Chicago and the neighborhoods, we thought it would be very appropriate for us to bring the mayor of Chicago in,” said Nancy Cuniff, One Book's project coordinator. “We’re delighted that he was able to find time in his schedule to talk to us.”
Emanuel focused the bulk of his banter-laden speech on Chicago’s status as an example for cities in the U.S. and worldwide, and how education at all levels plays a major role in that. Mention of his support for a longer school day garnered audience applause.
He also emphasized the role a solid college education can play in the city’s politics.
“I think Northwestern will be strong as the city of Chicago is strong," he said. "And we’ll be strong as Northwestern is strong.”
At two different points during his speech, the mayor referred to ideologies opposing his own as “hogwash.”
“I’m trying to clean this up,” Emanuel said, laughing at his replacement swear word. “This is a place of academia and I am an alumnus. Dang, I wish I could say what I wanted to say.”
Emanuel defended the choices President Barack Obama has made over the past four years, in contrast to Mitt Romney’s plans for the auto industry, specifically, and reminded the audience that good politics comes from policy, not cynicism.
Following Emanuel’s formal comments, SESP professor and One Book chair Dan Lewis engaged him in a brief Q-and-A discussion. Weinberg senior and One Book fellow Tyr Wiesner-Hanks said Chicago city officials would not permit the crowd to ask questions of Emanuel if Chicago media outlets were permitted in the auditorium. Emanuel did, however, respond to student questions in the overflow room, Tech LR2, after leaving Ryan Auditorium.
Weinberg senior Mauricio Maluff, a representative of the Northwestern branch of the International Socialist Organization, stood with a handful of other protesters from his group outside Tech in the half-hour leading up to the event.
“Originally we wanted to ask him questions about some of his policies that we find to be destructive,” Maluff said. “This shouldn’t be a campaign stop. This is our university.”
Maluff said he disagrees with Emanuel’s policies on many issues, including education, mental health and taxes.
Room for disagreement is something Wiesner-Hanks values in the One Book selection and its speaker series.
“Everybody engages in the same conversation,” he said of books chosen in years past, because there’s an expected reaction that readers will share. “It’s not like there’s one right way to talk about Chicago.”
Emanuel specifically addressed the students in attendance and the role he feels they can play in the revitalization of the Chicago economy, citing a need for more educated individuals in the workforce.
“Get on the Davis El stop. I’ll win if you call Chicago home,” he said. Later he conceded, laughing, “Yes, the mayor of Evanston wants you to think you’re in Evanston.”