Emanuel speaks on libraries, culture and personal life


Santiago Covarrubias

Mayor Rahm Emanuel in conversation with Scott Turow at Cindy Pritzker Auditorium on Oct 29.


Ballet, books and battling his brothers for his parents’ attention were among the subjects Mayor Rahm Emanuel touched on as featured speaker at the 2015 Cindy Pritzker Lecture on urban life and issues Oct. 29 at the Harold Washington Library Center, 400 S. State St. 

Just one day after the City Council passed his massive tax increase, the largest tax hike on record, the mayor sat down with best-selling author and attorney Scott Turow at the Cindy Pritzker Auditorium for a wide-ranging conversation that examined the role of public libraries and culture in Chicago, as well as the mayor’s personal life.

Emanuel spoke about how reading affected his life and said when he was

young, his parents made him write out a summer reading list of three books and discuss them at dinner.

“It’s hard to describe in our home that it was a conversation,” Emanuel said in his talk. “Imagine five people talking at once and [caring less] what the other person had to say, and that was the basis of an Emanuel conversation.”

He said children today have the opportunity to explore their world with the help of  local libraries.

“Our libraries have the ability now to help all our kids level the playing field. They can bring museums, technology and culture to our neighborhood libraries and make them a place for our kids to explore the world,” Emanuel said. “I think a library can be a resource with a capital ‘R.’”

He acknowledged that giving children cultural experiences such as seeing plays or going to museums can be expensive.

“By bringing the Joffrey Ballet, the Shakespeare play [and] Midnight Circus to our parks for free, kids get cultural enrichment, and our parents don’t go broke trying to figure out how to do it,” Emanuel said.

He also spoke about how Chicago has great dance, music and culture and how art enriches neighborhoods.

“There is no world-class city that does not have art and culture,” Emanuel said.

Emanuel added that he played soccer his freshman year of high school, and when winter came, there was not a lot of indoor soccer. At the time, Roosevelt “Rosey” Grier was in the news because he was a football player taking ballet. Emanuel said he wanted to improve his soccer, so he took ballet off season.

“I was a lot better at ballet than I was at soccer,” Emanuel said.

He said ballet taught him discipline and how to handle ridicule.

“You had to go back to the early 1970s, and the idea that you were a man taking ballet is not what it is today,” Emanuel said.

He said ballet was something he really loved, and he ended up receiving a scholarship to the Joffrey Ballet School that he did not take. He said this is the reason he is an advocate for after-school activities.

Craig Davis, director of Cultural and Civic Engagement for the Chicago Public Library, worked with the senior team that put the lecture together. 

He said that the lecture has been done in the past, but it is what he calls an irregular lecture, meaning it does not happen annually.

“The lecture was originally put together to honor Cindy Pritzker and the contributions she has made to the public library over the years,” Davis said.

He said the goal this year was to highlight the topic of culture and art and the roles they play in the lives of Chicago residents. He said Emanuel was chosen as speaker because of his support for the arts.

Davis said he was very pleased with how the lecture turned out.

“I didn’t see anyone who did not look happy when they left last night,” he said. 

 Rachel Tanase, a Pilsen resident, said she came to the lecture to hear the mayor speak in person.

She said she wanted to hear him speak “[to] put a face to the name and not just see him in the media but actually hear him talk.” 

Tanase said she thought the lecture was great. At first, she did not know what to expect, but she said it was nice to hear Emanuel speak about his passions.

Karen Fleshman, a South Loop resident, attended to show her support for Emanuel.

“I’m a big fan of Rahm. I love him as a mayor,” Fleshman said. “I love his tenacity and his ability to make hard decisions.”

She said she grew up going to the parks in Grand Crossing near the South Side of the city and knows they have the ability to change lives.

She said she enjoyed the lecture for offering “a different side of him, because in the press, we’re always hearing about how abrupt or harsh he can be, but in this setting we found out more about his life.”