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A Prayer for the City As an inside look at how politics gets done in a big city, this is pretty much unparallelled, and all of its observations about how cities have been abandoned and screwed over are pretty much right on the money So why didn t I like this I think Bissinger s writing is pretty unimpressive the whole thing has these weird macho New Journalism airs about it, which I recognize as an attempt to spice things up but feels a little overcompensating Nevertheless, it s 100% necessary reading for unders As an inside look at how politics gets done in a big city, this is pretty much unparallelled, and all of its observations about how cities have been abandoned and screwed over are pretty much right on the money So why didn t I like this I think Bissinger s writing is pretty unimpressive the whole thing has these weird macho New Journalism airs about it, which I recognize as an attempt to spice things up but feels a little overcompensating Nevertheless, it s 100% necessary reading for understanding why Philly is how it is I quote here a recent column from George Will not my cup of tea, but whatever talking about L.A Mayor Eric Garcetti Although presidents Andrew Johnson , Grover Cleveland and Calvin Coolidge had been mayors of Greeneville, Tenn., Buffalo and Northampton, Mass., respectively, no mayor has gone directly from a city hall to the White House But the 44th president came from eight years in the nation s most docile and least admirable state legislature Barack Obama effectively began running for p I quote here a recent column from George Will not my cup of tea, but whatever talking about L.A Mayor Eric Garcetti Although presidents Andrew Johnson , Grover Cleveland and Calvin Coolidge had been mayors of Greeneville, Tenn., Buffalo and Northampton, Mass., respectively, no mayor has gone directly from a city hall to the White House But the 44th president came from eight years in the nation s most docile and least admirable state legislature Barack Obama effectively began running for president as soon as he escaped to Washington from Springfield, Ill The 45th came from six bankruptcies and an excruciating television show Will goes on to quote Fiorello La Guardia There is no Republican or Democratic way to pick up the garbage Our increasing nationalization of politics at both the federal and state level is so very depressing And local politics is not immune from these pressures, but to me, there are still signs of cities functioning as laboratories of democracy Lo and behold, about a year ago therobots or whatever they use to send us cheap deals for our e readers thought I would enjoy a 1997 book about Philadelphia Maybe the robots knew I had loved Friday Night Lights, or that my remaining Jersey side of the family has made the trek from Newark to Middlesex County to South Jersey Or maybe it knew that I have an undergrad political science degree No matter the reason, the robots were so on point about this one Simply put, this is one of, if not THE finest books about governing that I have ever read And I ve read your Teddy White s, and your Hunter Thompson s, and your Game Changes, and your McCullough biographies Maybe what sets it apart is that the campaign usually the much sexier part is so very secondary in this book to the actual act and pressures of governing More likely what sets it apart is the brilliance of Bizzinger As he has demonstrated time and time again, he knows what he is doing.So much to say about this book, but as a small note of praise, the e reader indicates that I made 45 highlights from this book I usually don t highlight books ever since finishing undergrad and law school What the heck is the point There is no mid term in adulthood to prepare for This one should be assigned in all of your Poli Sci classes.Another important point about this book is that it is very much of its time Hard to imagine how much the death of the great American City was discussed in the late 90s Even as late as the 2004 election and the W efforts in the suburbs and exurbs Cities now are alive and thriving Indeed, it is suburbs that need your prayers today Bizzinger hits on so many ideas that are so relevant today this one belongs up there as much as any of them in understanding the Trump election Issues like the decline in manufacturing, corporate welfare, crime policy and it s resulting politics of race I mean this as a great compliment to both Bissinger and Coates, but the red lining discussion is better here than in Coates The Case for Reparations What is so impressive is that Bissinger had all of this in 1997 Heck, this was even before The Wire which you will see so many echoes.Finally, an additional point on the subject of this book Mayor Ed Rendell Boy, the comparisons to Clinton Bill, not Hillary really are uncanny And I mean that both very positively and negatively The skilled technocratic policy making The politics of triangulation But of course, the boorish behavior The Lisa DePaulo story in this one, especially through the lens of me too and 2018 seems so very terrible Ed Rendell would struggle in today s political environment, but maybe that is also an indictment of our current political environment in addition to an indictment of Mayor Rendell A Prayer for the City is Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Buzz Bissinger s true epic of Philadelphia mayor Ed Rendell, an utterly unique, unorthodox, and idiosyncratic leader who will do anything to save his city take unions head on, personally lobby President Clinton to save , defense jobs, or wrestle Smiley the Pig on Hot Dog Day all the while bearing in mind the eternal fickleness of constituents whose favor may hinge on a missed garbage pick up or an overzealous meter maid It is also the story of citizens in crisis a woman fighting ceaselessly to give her great grandchildren a better life, a father of six who may lose his job at the Navy Shipyard, and a policy analyst whose experiences as a crime victim tempt her to abandon her job and ideals Heart wrenching and hilarious, alive with detail and insight, A Prayer for the City describes a city on its knees and the rare combination of political courage and optimism that may be the only hope for America s urban centers I don t know if a better book has been written about local politics This book may be one of the best ones I ve read about politics, period It s a dizzying portrayal of a big city mayor trying to navigate the shark infested waters of public employee unions, the media, state and federal government, job loss, white flight, andIt s both engrossing and deeply depressing Not perfect Bissinger lays it on a bit thick sometimes , but overall I loved it. Give a great nonfiction writer like Buzz Bissinger unfettered access to a colorful and complicated politician like Ed Rendell and you re going to get an amazing book.I don t hand out five stars too often but A Prayer for the City probably deserves six.This inside look at Rendell s first term as mayor of Philadelphia is much, muchthan a biography of a politician, although it s a darn good biography More than anything else, A Prayer is a heart wrenching lamentation about our country s b Give a great nonfiction writer like Buzz Bissinger unfettered access to a colorful and complicated politician like Ed Rendell and you re going to get an amazing book.I don t hand out five stars too often but A Prayer for the City probably deserves six.This inside look at Rendell s first term as mayor of Philadelphia is much, muchthan a biography of a politician, although it s a darn good biography More than anything else, A Prayer is a heart wrenching lamentation about our country s betrayal of its big cities, and about the ramifications of that Bissinger doesn t shy away from addressing federal policy, in all its wonky and nefarious aspects But what makes A Prayer for the City sing, or make that wail, are its vivid descriptions of how policy affects people on a personal level Brilliantly, Bissinger devotes much of the book to Philadelphia residents like Fifi Mazzccua, an aging African American woman who is single handedly raising a houseful of grandchildren and great grandchildren while her son rots in prison or like Mike McGovern, a city prosecutor who confronts the most atrocious acts of violence in the urban cesspool A Prayer also dives into the travails of political leadership in our society, where even the rare, well intentioned elected official must constantly deal with people who put their self interest ahead of the common good.If you care about cities or even if you just care about our country this book is an important one to read There s a good book to be found in the text of this book the political chess playing on its own would make a three , maybe four star book But as it s presented, Bissinger s too fundamentally dishonest and crowd pleasing in his presentation for this to merit serious consideration as meaningful nonfiction He seems to lack all respect for his presumed audience, between his narrative gimmicks and the sheer transparency of his emotional manipulation it comes across as an insecurity in the strengt There s a good book to be found in the text of this book the political chess playing on its own would make a three , maybe four star book But as it s presented, Bissinger s too fundamentally dishonest and crowd pleasing in his presentation for this to merit serious consideration as meaningful nonfiction He seems to lack all respect for his presumed audience, between his narrative gimmicks and the sheer transparency of his emotional manipulation it comes across as an insecurity in the strength of the story he s chosen, which is unfortunate, as it was strong enough without his intrusive modifications Some of this is small stuff, like his providing gratuitous details to no purpose half a page listing Philadelphia s firsts, half a page of the names of ships built at the navy yard, etc , which feels mostly like an attempt at padding out a term paper he might argue that such expansive lists were included to impress sheer scale upon the reader, but simple numbers would be sufficient to impress that same scale His choice, too, to take intermittent excursions from the overtly political bulk of the text to drop in on the lives of four citizens feels like another misjudgement of his audience, like either desperate attempts to keep his audience from getting bored or periodical reminders that this book s story of politics is a fundamentally human one, as if that could ever be forgotten His personal biases also come across without much effort made toward concealment and the efforts that are made are so lackluster as to have the effecting of highlighting , and without even bothering forth arguments in their favor, let alone successful ones.Most concerning is the artificiality of the narrative he massages into such a construction so as to be able to say to any kind of reader broadly, we might break these potential subsets into pro government and anti government groups , Ha, I proved you wrong This isn t going where you thought it was, and I m not supporting your case, but also, You should be commended for believing that, but that doesn t make you right This frustrating double rebuttal is not dubious for the emotion it provokes frustration is a perfectly valid emotion to elicit, and likely would have been the one elicited by a straighter retelling of the facts indeed, even without Bissinger s reckless and undecorous ramping up, the undoctored version of events would likely play as black comedy with an honestly earned, multifaceted tragicomic tone , but the manner of extraction here removes any power from the fact of the situation and gives it all to Bissinger himself under the guise of offering a balanced portrayal, Bissinger actually merely ensures that his book will end up as utterly unchallenging to readers of any and all points of view He seems to haveof a congratulatory interest in lionizing himself and his readers for whatever beliefs they may or may not have in America s system of government, and in blaming its players broadly, than in truly analyzing that same system As a result, this book fails my standard litmus test for effective nonfiction, which is, roughly, to raise as manyquestions as it answers Bissinger is uninterested in such questions and answers, assumes his readership is as well, and so disregards them altogether I grew up in Philly, spent 16 years of schooling there, and now live in South Jersey and still work in Philly I learnedabout the city during the 1.5 weeks I was reading this book than I did in all that other time combined The depth of the reporting, the range of stories covered, the ability to sort through reams of information it s all really impressive But it s not just a Philly book it s a book about the slow decay of the American city and the ways people have tried to combat that I grew up in Philly, spent 16 years of schooling there, and now live in South Jersey and still work in Philly I learnedabout the city during the 1.5 weeks I was reading this book than I did in all that other time combined The depth of the reporting, the range of stories covered, the ability to sort through reams of information it s all really impressive But it s not just a Philly book it s a book about the slow decay of the American city and the ways people have tried to combat that death, with all the inherent political mess that comes with that territory Although the 92 96 timeframe may seem dated, it s actuallyfascinating now to see it because the book opens with Mayor Rendell saying his economic plan will shape the city for the next 25 years 21 years after that proclamation, it s possible to really see where some of the changes in this city are rooted Every now and then Bissinger gets a little carried away with ludicrous metaphors and imposes his voice on the story in distracting ways and it was weird how he seemed to immediately and instinctively side with Rendell s camp during the incidents when he sexually harassed and or actually assaulted women , but overall the prose is strong and clear and crisp and everything else you d expect from a writer of this pedigree I liked the intimacy of the account A bit like watching The Wire if not as well executed At times I felt like the treatment of the city s racial dynamics was fairly one sided but never dishonest or disingenuous He gave an honest account of the Rendell years in Philly from the perspective of the Rendell administration, and he did spend time on the history of cities in the 20th century and how race played a huge role in outcomes federal housing policy redlining etc That was a high point I I liked the intimacy of the account A bit like watching The Wire if not as well executed At times I felt like the treatment of the city s racial dynamics was fairly one sided but never dishonest or disingenuous He gave an honest account of the Rendell years in Philly from the perspective of the Rendell administration, and he did spend time on the history of cities in the 20th century and how race played a huge role in outcomes federal housing policy redlining etc That was a high point If the author referred to north philly as a desert onetime I would have had to deduct a star If you loved the West Wing TV series, there are good chances that you ll like this book The author somehow finagled permission to be a fly on the wall during the Ed Rendell s first term as Philadelphia s Mayor 1992 1995 , embedding himself in the Chief of Staff s office, sitting in the shadows during executive meetings, even listening outside the door during tense confidential negotiations over navy yard reuse proposals Readers are granted shockingly unfettered access to the internal workin If you loved the West Wing TV series, there are good chances that you ll like this book The author somehow finagled permission to be a fly on the wall during the Ed Rendell s first term as Philadelphia s Mayor 1992 1995 , embedding himself in the Chief of Staff s office, sitting in the shadows during executive meetings, even listening outside the door during tense confidential negotiations over navy yard reuse proposals Readers are granted shockingly unfettered access to the internal workings of city government at the highest level we are spectators at the Administration s finest hours and most cringe worthy stumbles I m still amazed at what Bissinger was allowed to witness What makes the narrative eveninteresting is that the 1990s was a pivotal turning point for American cities, in a way that some guessed at in the moment but really became apparent only a decade or so later White flight, the crack epidemic, race riots, Cabrini Green like public housing projects, and de industrialization had culminated in horrific conditions that left cities broke, crime ridden, and plagued with poverty related issues Everything peaked in the 1990s Administrations that realized that they were the last, best chance to save a dying and obsolete city took radical measures, capitalized on the economic boom of the 1990s, and entered the 21st century with enough economic momentum and attractive assets to lure in urbanophile Millennials See Philadelphia, thanks to Rendell The alternative was complete collapse of the city, following by the total implosion of the economy in nearby suburbs see Detroit Gary Flint So not only does A Prayer for The City deliver a fascinating insider view, but what we re watching is a desperate Administration try everything it can think of to pull a City back from the brink We re shameless, the Chief of Staff told the author We ll play every card The book offers thoughtful, poignant portraits of two men Mayor Ed Rendell and his Chief of Staff, David Cohen and in so doing, it offers insights into what it takes in terms of temperament and time allocation to excel at those jobs We vote for Mayors, but do we actually know what they do, what they can do, to create change Bissinger makes a compelling case that one of the Mayor s key contributions was his relentless cheerleading Rendell s optimism changed the entire feel of the city, to the point where the perpetual focus wasn t on the litany of problems, but on what maybe,just maybe , could be done As if by constantly talking about all that might be coming and planning for it as if it were already here, it somehow wasalready here In a way, he wasn t America s Mayor but America s first publicly elected cult leader, winning hearts and minds of hundreds of thousands on the basis of blind faith Even if he did have to do it by wrestling with six foot pig mascots to promote a local hot dog business, or undertake any number of ridiculous shticks to market the city as an entertainment destination for suburbanites with money to burn Of course, I also ate up the fact that both my employer and my boss were mentioned by name in the section about the 5 year financial plan that brought city government back from near bankruptcy A manifesto for dramatic and radical and unprecedented change in an American city yeah, I think I ll tell my Mom that that s what I do for a living My only reservation is that the narrative flow can feel like learning to drive a manual transmission the adrenaline rush of union stand downs and navy yard sale negotiations screech to a halt for a profile of a Philadelphia resident I understand that the author included these profiles to give the reader a visceral image of the people whose lives hang in the balance, people like a soon to be laid off welder, an African American grandma raising her great grandkids in a crack neighborhood, a yuppie couple who are driven from their Center City townhouse after one too many violent crimes, etc It s all good content, it s just awkwardly shoe horned into the Rendall Administration story in a way that s distracting at best and deflating at worst All in all, I can t believe this isn t standard reading among urbanists What Bissinger has written is both paean and elegy to the once grand, once thriving American city The focus is Philadelphia, but the story represents the plight of all the large urban centers across the country cities whose revitalized downtowns are deceptive, a brocade curtain hiding a crumbling stage set It s hard to believe that Ed Rendell, newly elected mayor of Philadelphia, would allow Bissinger to follow him around for four years, giving him access to meetings, policy debates, and What Bissinger has written is both paean and elegy to the once grand, once thriving American city The focus is Philadelphia, but the story represents the plight of all the large urban centers across the country cities whose revitalized downtowns are deceptive, a brocade curtain hiding a crumbling stage set It s hard to believe that Ed Rendell, newly elected mayor of Philadelphia, would allow Bissinger to follow him around for four years, giving him access to meetings, policy debates, and personal melt downs I am astonished And I m inclined to agree with the author s view that Mayor Rendell is a man unafraid to be human Ultimately though, Rendell, and his passion to save Philadelphia, is not what fascinated me the most What the book did is lift the manhole cover on the political machinations, both good and terrible, that keep government snaking along Do we need government do help us maintain a civilized society I think we do, but what a sewer I admire the noble efforts of politicians who enter this befouled environment in order to make a difference, a better life, for their constituents What they re up against is beyond description, although Bissinger does justice to the attempt Poverty, racism, drugs, crime, fear, despair, poor public schools, abandoned factories, little health care, and a culture of public dependence That s the short list.Although I found this book seriously depressing, I also came away feeling something of the spirit of confidence and hope that all is not ruined I admit that I m deeply cynical about politicians and the legislative process government policies are so often grossly damaging but this book makes clear that there are people willing to make painful sacrifices for the greater good.This book is about the possibilities