Inaugural Address of Mayor Edward J. Kelly
April 8, 1935
This speech is recorded as it first appeared in print. Archaic spelling and misspellings in the original document have not been corrected.
No man could be insensible to the honor conferred upon me by my fellow-citizens and I am deeply grateful for it. It is not my intention tonight to speak about myself. The important thing tonight is Chicago—and Chicago’s future.
We Chicagoans have a golden opportunity in our individual capacities and as representatives of the three and a half millions who live in our city, to leave an imprint upon Chicago’s future, and will make the best of our opportunity.
We are all concerned with the welfare of our city. We all are determined that Chicago shall go forward, that we shall make Chicago the greatest city in the world.
We shall work for the good things for Chicago and fight—with all our might—any forces of evil which would keep Chicago back. It is in that spirit that I address you tonight. So if I mention the recent election, it is not in any personal sense or from the desire to boast.
The fact that nearly 800,000 Chicagoans out of not much more than 1,000,000 were agreed on one man for Mayor, shows that Chicago is a city of cooperation. It means that we Chicagoans have been working and thinking together. It means that there is harmony in our city and that the citizens are determined to go forward in the only way any community can go forward—through constructive cooperation. That was the great meaning of the recent election.
The spirit of cooperation will carry us successfully over the hurdles that we are to face during the next four years.
If anyone is in doubt as to how we intend to approach the new problems of our city, the best guide will be found in the record of the last two years. The only forecast of what a public official will accomplish is usually found in his past record.
What we have accomplished is well known to all of you. How Chicago’s credit was restored need not be repeated,—nor how we have restored the morale of our public employees, how we have made our police department a real, fighting force against crime—nor how we have decreased government expenditures and thus reduced taxes upon the owners of homes and other property.
Neither is it necessary to tell you how we have assured a safe milk supply for our children, improved all the municipal services, including the schools, extended transportation facilities—of particular benefit to the working men and women--and most important of all, caused the whole world to look once more with respect upon Chicago and Chicagoans.
We have done all those things—and when I say “We”, I mean “We”—because of the great spirit of cooperation of this Council and of our people. The election returns reveal in the most convincing way possible that Chicago has approved what has been done.
And, now, what of the future?
The most important problem facing us is to provide jobs and wages for our men and women who want to work, but who have been denied the opportunity of honest labor.
We will find jobs for these honest citizens—jobs which will enable them to support themselves and their families and enable them to maintain their self-respect.
I have labored with my own hands and I know the joy that comes to a man from putting in an honest day’s toil, knowing that as a result he is able to support himself and family.
Chicago always has been a city of workers, and we will keep it that way. Work and wages—not unemployment—that is our goal for every Chicagoan able to work.
We hope to give every earnest and willing man and woman in Chicago the opportunity to earn a decent living. Nothing is of greater importance.
We will restore courage, hope and ambition in the hearts of Chicagoans. We will never permit a generation to grow up discouraged, pessimistic and without hope. We older citizens have a responsibility to the boys and girls of Chicago, in our country and in our American institutions.
The surest way of getting that faith is by opening the doors of opportunity to these youngsters. It is our duty to prove to them that industry and honesty will be rewarded. That can be done by a program that means jobs and wages.
To aid in getting more work and more wages, the City has planned projects involving the expenditure of more than Seven Hundred Million dollars. These have been submitted to the Federal government for examination, consideration and approval of such as they deem most advantageous.
I hope and confidently expect that a large part of this program will be approved by Washington. It provides for public improvements, constructions and betterments, which are useful , beneficial and necessary. This program does not invade the realm of private affairs.
It is a plan to improve living conditions in Chicago—a plan that will substantially contribute to the health, safety and convenience of the people.
It contemplates the building of sewers, the increase of water pressure, filtration plants, a maternity hospital for poor mothers, enlargement of the Municipal Tuberculosis Sanitarium, resurfacing of Four Hundred miles of macadam streets, rehabilitation of the Fire and Police Alarm systems, elimination of dangerous grade crossings, construction of adequate airport facilities, building of new bridges, enlargement of playgrounds and beaches, building of highways, construction of garbage incinerators, improvement of the street lighting.
These improvements contemplate an approach to Chicago’s ultimate goal of being the cleanest, best paved, most brightly lighted, healthiest, safest and happiest city in the world.
To be sure, such a program involves the expenditure of an enormous amount of money, but none of it is for fads, artificial beauty, or other unnecessary extravagances. There will be no improvements which will increase the taxes on real estate or personal property, or impose any special assessments.
This program will provided tens of thousands of persons with employment, add to family incomes, provide for the necessities of life and stimulate business generally.
It is frankly acknowledged that this is an ambitious plan. Some may criticize it as being too extensive, but the outlook spells success.
When I assumed office, one of my well-wishers remarked that I had been handed the toughest job of any mayor in the country. Others made like comments; no one presented a rosy picture. But with the aid of this capable City Council and well-meaning citizens sincerely interested in the city’s growth and welfare, substantial and encouraging results were obtained.
It was my greatest desire then—and still is—to decrease the number of unemployed. One of my first official acts was to appoint a Chicago Recovery Administration. It helped. Then came the Keep Chicago Ahead committee. It assisted more. Still more beneficial was the prevailing upon the World’s Fair officials to continue another year. These and other agencies brought millions of people to Chicago, who, in turn, brought more millions of money to spend and helped further employment here.
These things were done because we are a unified city. Selfish interests and petty desires were forgotten while our combined efforts were centered on the big job of Keeping Chicago Ahead.
There are many other weighty problems in addition to the one of making jobs. One of these has to do with our transportation system.
A proper traction ordinance must be passed so that our people who depend upon trolley cars and other forms of public transportation may ride to and from work and shopping with comfort and reasonable speed.
And they should be able to do this at the lowest possible fare that will not interfere with just wages.
Any traction ordinance passed should stand the full light of day. It must provide reasonable compensation to the city of Chicago. It cannot be perpetual, and the new set-up must provide sufficient financial strength so that this problem can be solved permanently.
Traction has been taken out of politics and must be kept out of politics. The only “politicians” involved should be the citizens, the people of Chicago.
Solution of this and other problems requires that there be continued cooperation, not only among the citizens generally, but between the chief executive and the members of the City Council. It must no be forgotten that Chicago is a council-governed city.
Thus, it is important to select aldermen who are able and who have the welfare of Chicago at heart. With only a few exceptions, the present City Council is composed of men who have been with me in the Council during the last two years. I am grateful to the people of Chicago, the residents in the fifty wards of the city, for the kind of men they have elected. I want to thank the people for sending to the Council men of intelligence, men of ability, men who understand the problems of our city and who are anxious to serve the city.
Chicago has never had a finer Council. I want to state publicly, tonight, how much I appreciate the fine aid and assistance—yes, the full cooperation—that was given me by the members of the council during the past two years. It was not necessary for me to veto a single ordinance. That is a record for Chicago, one that does credit to us all. I know we can keep up the good work.
In this, and the other many instances of cooperation, we have achieved something in Chicago that is of importance to the world as well. Everywhere there are people who are saying that the Democratic form of government is a failure. They go about shouting that they must try some other form of government. My answer is, “Look at Chicago!”
We have proved here that the Democratic form of government is very much alive. We have been solving our problems in a democratic way. The unity of our people, as displayed in the recent municipal election, revealed that democracy and the freedom of the ballot are still effective instruments of government. The voters have shown that they can appreciated efforts for their welfare. May faith in our form of government is stronger than ever before.
The next few years may very well be the test—not only for Chicago—but for the whole world. We will meet that test.
Chicago is a great city, and it is worth working for, night and day. That is the way I intend to work. Somebody may inquire as to why I glory in a job as tough as this one. They may ask why I want to take on the hard work of being Mayor of Chicago.
Well, that reminds me of the story of the old man who one day was busy building a bridge over a creek. He had lived in that district for years. He knew every stone in that creek and had crossed it a thousand times. He needed no bridge.
A younger man approached as he was working.
The young man said: “Why do you build that bridge? You know the way. You’ve never needed a bridge to get over. Why waste your time?”
“Well,” said the old man. “I am not building this bridge for myself. There are youngsters coming this way. They do not know all the stones. I can get across, but they might slip and fall. I am building this bridge for them. Is that wasting my time?”
That is the spirit we must continue to have in Chicago. We will not live forever, but our spirit will never die. The spirit of Chicago is the spirit of building for the future, for the boys and girls of today and those yet unborn. We will keep the faith with them, just as our fathers kept the faith for us.
I dedicate myself, with God’s help, toward that purpose-Chicago will travel on that high road.”
- Chicago City Council. Journal of the Proceedings, April 15, 1935, p. 13–15.