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Mayor Emanuel, Bill Savage Weigh In On NYT Reviewer's Chicago Diss

By Chuck Sudo in News on Apr 23, 2013 6:40PM

Photo credit: Vaughnchicago
The civic outcry over Rachel Shteir's opinions on Chicago that overshadowed her review of three Chicago-themed books in the New York Times Sunday Book Review has now drawn Mayor Rahm Emanuel into its orbit. Emanuel, who Shteir wrote in 2010 was too Jewish to be elected mayor of Chicago, noted what the more rational critics of her essay said of it: Her lazy writing and digs at the Windy City overshadowed the book reviews.

Per DNAInfo Chicago:

"No one read the book review," Emanuel advised Monday, a day after the piece was the cover article in The New York Times Book Review. "Read the book, make your own judgment."

Emanuel then walked a fine line here between legitimizing Shteir's criticism of rampant civic boosterism and trying to brush away the story by reminding DNAInfo about the number of Chicago's Nobel Prize winners and suggesting Shteir "go see our city. Meet the people. Meet our neighborhoods."

Shteir, in her review of the three books, slammed Chicagoans for over-the-top boosterism of the city in light of recent events like the murder rate that has made national headlines, parking meter privatization, corruption in local politics and the Cubs century-plus of futility. It's low hanging fruit but, as a few noted, a good edit and some tighter writing would have placed the focus back on the books. The Reader's Michael Miner had the best criticism of Shteir's essay. Now we can add Bill Savage to the list.

The Northwestern University professor of history, literature and culture wrote an opinion piece for Crain's Chicago Business where he lets Shteir know a majority of Chicagoans also hate everything she mentioned, while getting to the heart of the "Second City Complex."

"Why do Chicagoans care what New Yorkers think?

"We care because we're Americans, and New York is another great American city. We care because Chicago was built by boosters, many of whom came from New York and made their fortunes by bragging (rightly and wrongly) about this place.

"We care because New York media shapes how people worldwide understand our nation and our city. No one from anyplace wants to have their home trashed.

"Yet at the same time, it's disheartening to see this tired script play out again: New York writer dismisses Chicago as second rate. Chicagoans smack back. New York writer sighs, What do you expect from such rubes but to take umbrage at my deeper understanding of their second-rate town?"

Savage then goes on to debunk some of the low-hanging fruit Shteir picked.

"If Chicago were to become Detroit, it would have happened 40 years ago. Anyone who knows anything about urban industrialism and the decline of Rust Belt cities has more insight than Ms. Shteir.

"Does she know this is not a one-industry town? So we lost the Stockyards and the South Works. Still we limp along with, oh, La Salle Street, O'Hare, Lake Calumet's shipping industry, several great universities, a maturing tech sector, the Loop and other economic engines. And the city of Chicago's residency rule for municipal workers creates a solid (some might say captive) middle-class/working-class tax base.

It's frustrating that Shteir's ignorance about the city continues having lived in Chicago for 13 years. It's as though the University of Chicago graduate moved away from Hyde Park after graduating, yet her mind and spirit remained in one of the most closed-off sections of the city. She could have easily used any of her personal experiences living in Chicago to add context and depth to her reviews of the books, and didn't. That's what has the hounds at her door.