Does it take an outsider to find the truth? Jonathan Alter takes a look at Mayor Rahm Emanuel

March 23, 2012

Listen to Jonathan Alter discuss this article on Eight Forty-Eight

"Here's my Atlantic profile of Rahm, the most extensive look yet at him as mayor," journalist Jonathan Alter tweeted after his piece "Meet the New Boss" went live online as part of the April 2012 edition of The Atlantic magazine. Alter, a columnist for Bloomberg View (he was previously at Newsweek for almost two decades), was making a pretty tall claim: Those of us here in Chicago have seen plenty of "extensive looks" at the mayor's regime since Emanuel took office.

The piece clocked in at almost 10,000 words, so length was definitely on Alter's side. But the journalist, who was born in Chicago and now lives in New Jersey, began his essay by talking about walking around his sister's Near North Side neighborhood. In the minds of some commenters, this may have been Alter's fatal flaw: He's not a real Chicagoan, at least not anymore.

"Meet the New Boss" is full of anecdotes that were fresh to readers across the country, but seemed old news to many in the Second City, particularly the journalists who cover him every day. After all, we know Mayor Emanuel takes the CTA, has had trouble revamping Chicago Public Schools, and is very physically fit. To attend a press conference the Mayor holds, almost a year into the position, is to see that the honeymoon period between the Mayor's office and the press is over.

What we didn't know before The Atlantic article was that Alter goes way back with Rahm; at least, their families have some interesting connections. We also learned that Alter has been covering Rahm "since 1992, when he broke national Democratic Party records as a fund-raiser for Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign."

Jonathan Alter joins Eight Forty-Eight to talk about whether he thinks Emanuel can change a Chicago that seems to be, to some, forever stuck in the unchanging mud of political corruption. Here's a hint at Alter's view: "I originally thought Rahm might be a mayor-for-life type, but lately I’ve been hearing that he’ll likely serve two terms, then, in his early 60s, run for governor of Illinois," he writes. "If he succeeds there, don’t bet against his trying to be the first Jewish president, though of course he denies any interest."