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Mayor Emanuel Links Chicago's Strength to Education

In talk at Northwestern, Emanuel highlights intellectual power of universities

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel told a capacity crowd at Northwestern University today (Nov. 28) that Chicago is one of America’s most important cities largely because of the intellectual power generated by the great universities in the area, including Northwestern.

“No other city has what we have,” the mayor declared. “I think Northwestern University will be as strong as the city of Chicago is strong -- and we’ll be as strong as Northwestern is strong. There are about 100 cities in the world that drive the intellectual, economic and cultural capital -- and energy -- of the world economy. Chicago is one of them.”

The mayor underscored the importance of education -- including his call for longer school days and a longer school year to prepare Chicago students to qualify to get into great universities like Northwestern. Only by having a well-educated workforce will Chicago remain one of the most powerful cities in the world, he said.

“Don’t waste what you have here,” the mayor said, strongly urging students to value the opportunity they have to attend Northwestern. “Use it. Not a lot of people have it.”

Emanuel, who received a master’s degree from Northwestern's School of Communication in 1985, said the most important thing about a city is the quality of its citizens. He urged Northwestern students to come live and work in Chicago when they graduate. If Northwestern students “call Chicago home,” he said, he will have done his job successfully as mayor.  

About 1,000 students, faculty and staff heard the mayor’s half-hour talk, titled  “Chicago Politics and the 2012 Election.” The event was part of the One Book One Northwestern program focusing the University community on Chicago this year. 

Read Mayor Emanuel's take on the 2012 election and why ideas matter most in politics.

The mayor delivered his remarks in Northwestern’s Ryan Family Auditorium in the Technological Institute on the Evanston campus. More than 600 filled the auditorium, and hundreds more listened in two overflow rooms where the event was piped in.

He was introduced by Dan A. Lewis, professor of human development and social policy
 and director of the 
Center for Civic Engagement, who spoke first about the One Book program and the yearlong activities focused on the people, culture and politics of Chicago.

This year’s book, “Never a City so Real,” was written by Alex Kotlowitz, longtime writer-in-residence at Northwestern's Center for the Writing Arts and senior lecturer at the Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications.

The book provides an introduction to the city, but less as a tour of the place and more a chronicle of its soul. Through a collection of vignettes about Chicago's diverse people and neighborhoods, the book gives readers a much richer understanding of the city.

Lewis singled out Kotlowitz, the celebrated author, journalist and documentarian, as “one of Northwestern’s own” in his introduction of the mayor. After Emanuel spoke, Lewis and the mayor took seats on the stage and had a conversation about the 2012 election and the city.

Emanuel attributed the re-election of his former boss, President Barack Obama, to the power of the president’s ideas, and he disputed arguments that former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney lost the election because of mechanics and demographics.

“I think that’s hogwash,” Emanuel said. “To win on election day you have to have better ideas. Good policies make good politics.”

The mayor came to Northwestern in response to an invitation to speak from President Morton Schapiro, who attended the event along with most of his senior staff.

Earlier this fall, Kotlowitz delivered the keynote address in the One Book program.

“The very act of telling stories is an act of hope," he observed. That is the reason that many of his subjects shared personal stories about the realities of their urban lives -- and why they emerge collectively as eloquent guides to the city’s heart and authenticity, he said.

“In my mind Chicago is not just any American city,” Kotlowitz declared of his adopted hometown. “ It is the American city.”

Emanuel echoed that sentiment during his remarks, noting, “I believe Chicago is the most American of any of America’s cities. If you want to know America, you come to its heartland. And what’s the capital of that heartland? Chicago.”

About One Book One Northwestern:

The One Book One Northwestern program aims to engage the campus in a common conversation centered on a carefully chosen, thought-provoking book. It began in 2005 for students in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences and has since evolved into a community­-wide program involving students, faculty and staff from all majors and departments.

Kotlowitz’s book, “Never a City so Real,” provides insight into Chicago's character, history and culture, while also touching on a wide variety of challenging issues such as neighborhood integration, politics, urban poverty, immigration and public housing. Most of all, it brings to life the diverse people and neighborhoods that make this city so great.

See the story on Kotlowitz’s One Book keynote lecture to the community.

About Mayor Rahm Emanuel

Rahm Emanuel was elected the 55th mayor of Chicago Feb. 22, 2011, and was sworn in May 16, 2011. A native of Chicago who previously spent three terms representing a North Side district in the U.S. Congress, Emanuel is deeply rooted in the life of the city, its neighborhoods and its people.

In his first year in office, Emanuel announced the redeployment of more than 1,000 police officers to Chicago’s neighborhoods and secured more than 20,000 private-sector jobs for residents across the city. Facing a $635 million fiscal shortfall, Emanuel led the passage of a unanimous budget containing reforms and investments to ensure Chicago’s financial future. Additionally, Emanuel launched Building a New Chicago, a $7 billion coordinated infrastructure plan that will revitalize the city’s roads, rails and runways. The Emanuel administration has tackled policy challenges in our schools, in public safety, in the city’s finances and in key areas of city services, such as sanitation, transportation and technology.

Prior to becoming mayor, Emanuel served as the White House Chief of Staff in President Barack Obama’s administration. During his tenure, he helped orchestrate the passage of key milestones such as the economic Recovery Act, Wall Street reform and health care reform -- increasing access and decreasing costs for millions of Americans. Emanuel played a crucial role in securing a bipartisan compromise that saved 140,000 teachers’ jobs -- and protected 5,700 jobs in Illinois.

Before accepting the position as Chief of Staff to the President, Emanuel served three terms in the U.S. House of Representatives representing Chicago’s 5th District, which includes the Old Town, Lincoln Park, Lakeview and Uptown neighborhoods. Prior to that, Emanuel served as a key member of the Clinton White House from 1993 to 1998, rising to serve as Senior Advisor to the President for Policy and Strategy. He played a key role in passing the COPS initiative, which added 100,000 cops to our streets and helped drop crime rates to a 26-year low. Emanuel also worked in the private sector for Chicago investment bank Wasserstein Perella. He began his career at Illinois Public Action, the state’s largest public interest organization.

Emanuel graduated from Sarah Lawrence College in 1981 and received a master's degree in speech and communication from Northwestern's School of Communication in 1985. He is married to Amy Rule, and they have three children, Zach, Ilana and Leah.

- Pat Vaughan Tremmel contributed to this story.