Inaugural Address of Mayor Anton J. Cermak
April 9, 1931
This speech is recorded as it first appeared in print. Archaic spelling and misspellings in the original document have not been corrected.
Editor’s note: Mayor Cermak assumed office April 9, but formal inaugural ceremonies were not held until April 27.
GENTLEMEN—I deem it appropriate at this time to address you briefly on what I regard as comparatively the more serious conditions in our municipal affairs.
The matter which I rank first in importance is the present financial condition of the City of Chicago and its relation to the ever-increasing burden of taxation which is being loaded upon our citizens. In the last four years, the City’s tax rate has increased from 92 1/2c per hundred to 137c per hundred. In figures, the City’s expenditures (including those for school administration) have increased from $152,716,412.18 in 1927 to $171,261,262.71 in 1930. The general tax bills just mailed our for 1929 taxes are from 19 to 25 percent higher than those of 1928. The progressive increase in the item of loss and cost in tax collections indicates a startling increase in forfeiture of property for nonpayment of taxes, and glaring instances of excessive taxation amounting practically to confiscation are unfortunately matters of common knowledge.
Directly, the City is without power either to change the existing tax laws or more equitably distribute the tax burden. The first is a matter of legislation. The second depends upon the honest intelligent and efficient administration of the legally constituted tax assessing and tax reviewing bodies.
The City, however, through the combined efforts of its Mayor, its Council, and its Administrative Department heads can contribute materially to a reduction of taxes. Of every dollar paid in taxes in Cook County 32.3 cents goes to the City of Chicago for general corporate purposes and 33.1c goes for the administration of its schools. Obviously, every dollar needlessly spent by the city adds to the tax burden, and every dollar properly saved by careful municipal administration decreases the tax burden. With your help and the active assistance of our department heads, I propose to reduce the cost of our municipal government to the lowest possible minimum consistent with the effective functioning of our vital municipal services.
In order that there may be no misunderstanding of the conditions existing at the time I assumed office, let me direct your attention to the present state of departmental appropriations. In several of the departments rendering essential service, the expenditures made against appropriations up to April 11th, exceed the proportion of the fund which it appears should have been spent between January 1 and April 11; in other words, the period from January 1 to April 11th constitutes approximately 29% of the entire fiscal year and in these departments more than 29% of the annual appropriation has already been spent.
Despite this condition, I confidently believe that by the elimination of incompetence, waste and the unnecessary duplication of services and the application of modern methods in ordinary use in well-ordered private businesses, the City can not only function for the remainder of the year within its unexpended budget balances but that a very considerable salvage can be effected. I am fully aware that this will be no easy task. I will need your help. I will insist upon the active and sustained co-operation of every department and bureau head. I shall ask and confidently expect to receive, the aid of disinterested civic-minded citizens whom I shall call upon to assist in this necessary reorganization of the City’s business. To these ends I shall ask your concurrence in the appointment by me of a "Mayor’s Advisory Commission" composed of disinterested, non-partisan citizens whose functions will include a thoroughgoing study of every department of the City Government with the definite object in view of making practical constructive recommendations designed to accomplish the following specific purposes:
To consolidate the existing 32 separate departments of the city into a smaller number of principal departments so as to bring about a more responsible and harmonious direction of the City’s affairs, eliminate unnecessary employees and terminate the existing duplication and overlapping of municipal services.
To standardize, so far as possible, contracts and specifications for municipal work and supplies so as to invite a much wider competition than has heretofore existed in the letting of such contracts and thus obtain fairer prices for the City; to improve the City’s central purchasing administration, by providing approved safeguards in the purchase, handling, delivery and accounting for supplies, materials and equipment, and to encourage by every proper means a feeling in the business community that the City of Chicago is entitled to the same consideration in its contracts and purchases as are large private businesses, and that the City of Chicago on its part will deal fairly and honestly with business public in its purchases of supplies and the letting of contracts.
To co-operate with the Civil service Commission which I will appoint in a complete re-classification of the Classified Civil Service so as to do away with the present utter lack of logical relationship between the duties and responsibilities of many positions and the salaries paid to the incumbents of such positions; to restrict, so far as possible, the numbers of so-called "60 day" or temporary appointees; to provide safeguards in examinations so as to develop a confidence in the community that Civil Service examinations are on the square to the end of inducing a better class of applicants to enter the service; to establish lines of promotion so that the provision of the Civil Service Law that vacancies in the service shall, wherever practicable, be filled by promotional examination, shall be carried out; and to set high standards of service and so encourage the rank and file of the Civil Service employees that they will strive to render full, efficient and courteous service to the public which pays them.
To install modern labor-saving devices and practices so as to avoid duplication and reduce expense in water, license and special assessment billing and collections and related administrative services; to discontinue duplicating accounting and bookkeeping services through the unification under a central head of all such services; to provide, within all municipal service, for an independent auditing of municipal accounts and the continuous supervision of budget appropriations and expenditures to the end that the exact condition of the City’s finances can be determined and known by the public at any time.
To provide for the publication and publicity of regular reports in simplified form on the activities, services and projects of the City Government, and on municipal receipts and expenditures.
To canvass and study the merits of all proposals made for municipal bond issues for public improvements to the end that no ill-considered or questionable proposal shall be submitted to the electorate.
The above six specifications are not designed to limit the jurisdiction of this commission, but rather to indicate the general scope of their activities and the nature of the service expected of it. It is my thought that this commission should hold frequent and regular meetings and follow through to accomplishment a definite and progressive program along the lines above laid down.
I hereby respectfully ask your concurrence in the appointment of the following persons as members of this “Mayor’s Advisory Commission”:
- Mr. William R. Dawes,
- Mr. Elmer T. Stevens ,
- Mr. Oscar Mayer,
- Mr. D.F. Kelly,
- Mr. Victor Olander,
- Mr. John McKinlay
- Mrs. Kellogg Fairbank,
- Mr. Julius F. Smietanka,
- Mr. Newton C. Farr,
- Mr. Theodore W. Robinson,
- Mr. Joseph Triner,
- Mr. Jacob M Loeb,
- Mr. Sewell Avery,
- Mr. Barney Balaban,
- Mr. Charles E. Merriam,
- Mr. Patrick H. Joyce,
- Mr. Henry H. Porter,
- Mr. Otto Kaspar,
- Mr. Joshua D’Esposito,
- Mr. Bert A. Massee,
- Mr. Gordon Strong,
- Mrs. George V. McIntyre,
- Mrs. B.M. Winston.
Mr. Francis X. Busch, now serving the City temporarily as Corporation Counsel, has agreed to act gratuitously as the permanent counsel of the Mayor’s advisory Commission, and I also request your approval to designate him to act with the commission in this capacity.
I have purposely named on the Mayor’s Advisory Commission a number of the same persons who were appointed by me while President of the Board of Cook County Commissioners as members of the Cook County Citizens Commission on Public Finance and Economy. I have done this in order that each commission can have intimate knowledge of the work being done by the other and both can work in complete accord. The program of the County Citizens Commission includes a survey of all of the many governmental agencies within the County and the recommendation to the County Board of well-considered proposal for legislation and perhaps constitutional amendments which will effect a permanent consolidation of the present independently functioning and overlapping agencies and resulting saving to the taxpayers of millions of dollars annually. It is my thought that the Mayor’s Advisory Commission, while dealing primarily with specific problems which can be accomplished without new legislation, will co-operate in every way possible to effectuate the broader program of the County Citizens Commission. In this connection, also, I am not unmindful of the fact that the previous City Council appointed a committee to recommend measures looking to a consolidation of existing taxing bodies in Cook County and it is, likewise, my thought and desire that if that committee is continued, the Mayor’s Advisory Commission should work in complete harmony with it.
The next matter to which I wish to direct your attention, and the importance of which is recognized by you and every good citizen of Chicago, is the so-called crime situation. I stated in my pre-election campaign that the minimizing of crime and the apprehension of criminals was a police problem. Punishment of criminals is, of course, a matter for the prosecuting agencies and the courts. I wish to repeat that statement now, and to declare that the administration, through its Police Department, must accept full responsibility for the prevention of crime so far as humanly possible, and for the prompt apprehension of offenders against the criminal laws. The responsibility for the conduct of the Police Department, and its administration, will be placed squarely upon the Commissioner of Police. He will not be interfered with in the slightest degree by me. I shall insist that he does not permit himself to be interfered with by anyone else. He will be judged solely by the results he accomplishes, and shall not hesitate to reorganize the department at anytime when I shall be convinced that it is not functioning efficiently. I shall direct the Commissioner of Police to co-operate fully with the official law-enforcing agencies and to welcome and encourage the assistance of voluntary civic agencies which are honestly endeavoring to aid in the apprehension of criminals and the rigid and equal enforcement of the law. I invite particularly the cooperation of prosecuting officials in a effort to make the collection by the police of the evidence of crimes more effective to secure convictions. While the police and crime problem is a most difficult one, I am confident that with the Mayor, the Commissioner of Police, the Civil Service Commission, your Committee on Police and Municipal Institutions, and the other official and unofficial agencies working united and earnestly to a common purpose, we can well before 1933, when the Century of Progress Exposition is held, present to the World a City, well governed and well ordered, and with a record for the suppression and prompt punishment of lawlessness equal to that of any other large city in the United States.
And this brings me naturally to that epoch-making event in Chicago’s history—the celebration of its hundredth anniversary as a municipality—its “Century of Progress” Exposition to be held in Chicago in 1933. The success of this Exposition means much to Chicago. Important public works, great philanthropic enterprises, vast private undertakings must be completed by 1933 in anticipation of this event. Your Honorable Body has created a standing committee to deal with the many problems which the Council will have to pass upon in connection with the celebration of this, our first centennial. The first unit of the subway as provided by the recently passed traction ordinance, must be pushed to completion. Important street widenings, still uncompleted, must be finished. The new Post Office must be built. The new Rosenwald Industrial Museum must be finished and equipped. The various exposition buildings, already well under way, must be ready to receive the exhibits which will be sent from all parts of the world.
Vigorous constructive efforts should be made through your proper committees, with the co-operation of the Department of Public Works and Board of Local Improvements, to put through the streets made possible by the straightening of the Chicago River, and to bring about the construction of a unified railway terminal in that area for the greater convenience of the hundreds of thousands of people who will visit us during the Exposition. In these endeavors, I pledge you my active assistance, and the aid of every agency I can command.
Every effort must also be made through the enlistment of our numerous splendid and efficient civic organizations to make known to the World that Chicago’s traditional spirit of accomplishment which made the 1893 World’s Fair the greatest event of its kind, either before or since, is again actively at work to make Chicago’s 1933 World’s Fair eclipse it in cultural value, in magnificence and in beauty. We want the World to know that Chicago, reborn in civic pride, in determination, and in inspiration for worthwhile progress, extends her invitation to people everywhere to enjoy the hospitality of the middlewest’s great metropolis, which in a hundred years has emerged from a settlement of less than 200 people to what we will be prepared in 1933 to prove is the best governed, the safest and the most beautiful City in the World.
May I be pardoned for one other observation of more immediate concern. The week of May 10th to May 20th has been designated as “Chicago Jubilee Week”, during which, by appropriate ceremonies, Chicago will celebrate the determination of its civic, business, and industrial leaders, to do everything possible through co-operative effort, to stimulate revival of trade and industry and interest in Chicago. I have already pledged my active assistance to this movement and respectively solicit the aid of your honorable Body and of all the departments and bureaus of the City Government to a like purpose.
In conclusion, may I make just a few rather personal observations.
I want it known that I fully appreciate the tremendous responsibilities imposed upon me by the unprecedented vote of confidence which I received from the people of Chicago on April 7th last. I realize, too, my own limitations. Alone and unaided I, can accomplish little. With the support and help which I ask for, I think I can do a great deal. I am not afraid of hard work. I regard the Mayor’s office as a “full-time job”, claiming and entitled to the best I have in me. I shall devote all of my time and thought to the discharge of its obligations. I expect everyone in the City’s service, from department head to the humblest employee, to do the same. By law I am not only Mayor, but a member of the City Council. I expect to perform my duty as such member. I shall sit in with the Finance and other committees on important measures for the two-fold purpose of informing myself on the details of such measures and to lend whatever aid my experience and counsel may be to the other members of the Committee. I must have the co-operation of City Council if we are to accomplish anything of lasting good for our beloved City. I have received, I think, the personal assurance of every elected alderman that I can count on such co-operation. This voluntary and sincerely meant expression of confidence and good will inspires me to look forward to four years of pleasant and treasured association. I shall also initiate the practice of meeting regularly and frequently with the heads of City Departments, and the Chairmen of Council Committees so that I may be kept in intimate touch with every branch of the City service and discuss suggestions for improved administration.
I have always been a believer in the practice enlisting disinterested, specially equipped and non-partisan citizens to aid in the solution of public problems. Some of the most effective public service of which I have knowledge has been accomplished by such groups. I expect to call frequently upon this citizenship during my term as Mayor. It is a source of great gratification to me that I have received from literally thousands of our citizens, without regard to party, nationality, race or creed, offers to assist in any way possible in the rejuvenation and development of our great City.
It has been impossible in this message to even mention many of the important tasks ahead of us. At subsequent meetings of Your Honorable Body, and at an early date, I shall ask the privilege of inviting your specific attention to them.
- Chicago City Council. Journal of Proceedings, April 27, 1931, p. 89–91.