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Rahm Emanuel has served as a top adviser to Presidents Clinton and Obama, a three-term congressman from Illinois and a two-term mayor of Chicago. But in his new book, “The Nation City,” the longtime Democrat argues that mayors are today’s most effective U.S. government officials. Emanuel sits down with Judy Woodruff to discuss that idea as well as his fears about "reckless" progressives in 2020.
Rahm Emanuel's political career has taken him to the White House twice, serving as a top adviser to Presidents Clinton and Obama, elected to the U.S. House of Representatives for three terms, and elected mayor of Chicago twice.
But in his new book, "The Nation City," he argues that mayors are the country's most effective government officials today.
We sat down recently, and he started by explaining how his family's immigrant roots inspired him to write this book.
I dedicate the book to my father, who just passed away.
He came here as an immigrant. He had ray postcard of the boat that brought him here. And he had not a bucket to spit in or window to throw it out of. And he makes it and has one of the — ends up with the largest medical practice, pediatric practice in the city.
I used to joke — he was a pediatrician in Albany Park. My uncle was a police officer in Albany Park. My grandfather when he thought he made it moved to Albany Park. And I represented Albany Park in Congress. I said, we traveled many miles. We just didn't go very far as a family.
So, you have a hopeful message here, Rahm Emanuel.
But it is based on a depressing premise. And that is that the…
You are so Jewish, Judy. What a way to discover that.
It is based on the premise that the federal government is dysfunctional.
Everybody goes around saying that. What do you mean by it, though?
Well, I think there's a lot of things that lead to it. But it is distant, it is disinterested, it is dysfunctional, and it matches up against the city's streets — strengths that are intimate, immediate and impactful.
And I will give you one illustration of something I write. The first chapter is about education. I'm very proud of what we did. We made four more years of education in Chicago. Pre-K became universal. Kindergarten became universal. We added an hour and 15 minutes to every day. And then we made community college free to every person in the city of Chicago who got a B average in high school, and gave transportation, et cetera.
And so what I mean by that is, Chicago started some; 8,000 kids have now gone to community college for free. Seven other cities are replicating it.
The federal government's never called. We have never been asked to testify. They never said, hey, how's this working? My mother thinks it's the most influential thing that's happened in education policy in the last 10 years.
But don't you think, if we're going past the high school, where there's eight cities, nine cities doing this, somebody would in the national government say, what's the retention rate? What's the completion rate?
And you're saying the federal government isn't interested?
What do cities need to realize their full potential?
So you have to make the type of quality investments, one first, second, and third, quality public education.
Number two, great investment in transportation, so everybody in the city can participate in the opportunities that a city has to offer, not just one part.
Third, the parks and the libraries are the level set where people of all walks of life have the same access and the same opportunities. Those are the types of things that I think are essential. And then, most importantly, as a city is growing economically, you have got to make sure that growth is shared and given to other communities that have — communities that have a challenge, whether it's in education or an economic investment, they get that investment.
You write about a number of mayors who've done a good job. There's a former mayor running for president you don't write about it in here.
And that's Bernie Sanders. He was mayor of Burlington, Vermont.
Why did you leave him out? Do you think…
Well, I didn't leave him out intentionally.
Because they're the mayors I served with I know.
It would be interesting. I think Bernie's going to rely more about talking about what he did as mayor of Burlington and less about his Senate career to remind people he's not from Washington.
I think people are saying now they have never seen the Democratic Party as conflicted as it is right now, maybe as divided as it is right.
Why is that?
Well, it's interesting.
You have real pressure on the party. And it's interesting you say this, because there's some elements of the party coming out of the progressive wing that see the Obama and Clinton years as unsatisfying for the progressive agenda.
Now, as a student of politics, there's only three Democrats in the last 100 years who got reelected, Roosevelt, Clinton and Obama. It's kind of a weird position to be dismissive of Bill Clinton's policies and politics, Barack Obama's policies and politics. They did get reelected.
And I'd rather have eight years of their progressivity vs. another four years of Donald Trump's. And one of the things I know…
And you're saying, if Bernie Sanders is the nominee, you're afraid…
I think that people — well, I think there's an energy in the progressive wing that somehow is dismissive, not just of the policy, but take the politics.
You have six elections since '92, all of Bill Clinton's, all of Barack Obama's, the '06 midterms and the 2018 midterms, all following the singular political paradigm. It would be reckless, with all that's at stake, from Congress, to Senate, to governors, to statehouses, let alone the presidency, to cast away that political lesson and say, we're not going to take the lesson of 2018.
We're going to go and say, forget swing voters, forget independent voters, who don't want to vote for President Trump. We're going to have a record turnout of young voters and working-class voters, which we have never, ever experienced to happen to win.
I think that is putting too much at the roulette table, when you have a model, as recently as just 14 months ago, that was a national model of success.
The book is "The Nation City: Why Mayors Are Now Running the World."
Thank you, Judy.
Good to see you.
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