cover image The Nation City: Why Mayors Are Now Running the World

The Nation City: Why Mayors Are Now Running the World

Rahm Emanuel. Knopf, $25.95 (240p) ISBN 978-0-525-65638-8

City Hall is supplanting dysfunctional national government on everything from filling potholes to fighting climate change, according to this hype-heavy manifesto on municipal governance. Former Chicago mayor Emanuel, who served as White House chief of staff to President Obama, argues that city government impacts citizens’ well-being more than a “sclerotic, clumsy, inflexible, wounded, and weak” federal government mired in partisan gridlock and debt. He showcases mayors from around the country as they fix schools, build infrastructure, refinance pension funds, spruce up downtowns, boost civic spirit, pursue de-carbonization, and defy President Trump’s immigration policies. Touting his own mayoral accomplishments, Emanuel lists education reforms including free pre-K and free community college, energy-efficiency measures, police department innovations that lowered crime and reformed the department following controversial shootings, subway and airport upgrades, riverfront promenades, and a 2040 carbon-neutrality deadline. Emanuel may be right about the perils of national politics, but his municipal triumphalism—“[a]bout a hundred cities around the world drive the economic, cultural, and intellectual energy of our planet”—yields little serious policy analysis, and in ascribing unemployment and crime drops to city initiatives, he ignores underlying factors like nationwide economic trends and demographic shifts. The result is an unconvincing case for small-bore localism over a broad national agenda. (Feb.)