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Speaker tells stories behind early Chicago machine politics

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“If you’re studying politics, you’re in the right place,” author Mark Quinn told students during his talk Sept. 29. He explained how Chicago’s political “Machine” outlasted other cities, but is no longer the force it once was.

Quinn regaled the audience with tales of Chicago’s “mythology” and told facts behind what happened, explaining how race, death and even weather crafted Chicago’s history. “What’s more entertaining? It’s great theatre. Where else can you find this cast of characters?”

Mixing different people in 1960s politics, Quinn wrote Chairman and The Chairman’s Challenge, which include highly developed characters and shades of moral gray. The books feature the mythical “City” instead of Chicago. People who already know about Chicago politics see the story as a puzzle and try to figure out who’s who, although no one character is one particular person. If someone who doesn’t know about politics reads the book, “you’ll learn about Chicago politics,” Quinn said.

Quinn grew up in Chicago’s 19th Ward and received a B.S. in accounting from the University of Illinois and an M.B.A. from University of Iowa. He’s been a panelist on political talk shows, written award-winning short stories, and managed a mutual fund. He’s currently teaching at Columbia.

The event was co-sponsored by the College’s urban and suburban studies program and Cultural Events. The next cultural event is set for Oct. 13 with the screening of the documentary Workers’ Republic and a talk by the film’s videographer Andrew Friend.

Written by Gail Oesterle ’14, psychology major and student worker in the Office of Marketing and Communications.