Inaugural Address of Mayor William Hale Thompson
April 28, 1919
This speech is recorded as it first appeared in print. Archaic spelling and misspellings in the original document have not been corrected.
To the honorable, the City Council of the City of Chicago:
GENTELMEN-The people of Chicago, by their sovereign right of suffrage, have indicated their choice of executive officers for the ensuing term of four years. By the same supreme authority the conduct of Chicago’s legislative affairs has been entrusted to us for the coming year.
Having taken the oath prescribed by the Constitution of this State, and having otherwise qualified, I have according to law assumed the office of Mayor and ex-officio your presiding officer, and in conformity with my duty submit herewith my fourth annual and second inaugural message for the consideration of your Honorable Body.
The duly elected City Treasure and the duly elected City Clerk have likewise qualified and assumed their offices as have the new members of your Honorable Body.
At the beginning of a new Council year, as well as a new term of office, I wish to reiterate with all earnestness my desire for harmony and co-operation between the legislative and executive branches of the City Government. More real good can be accomplished for the people of Chicago through unprejudiced, unselfish and unhampered combination of effort upon the part of public servants than through the bickering and strife which only aims to further selfish ends.
ISSUES OF THE MUNICIPAL CAMPAIGN
The recent municipal campaign, preceding both the primary and election, involved exhaustive discussion upon certain questions of public policy. The people at large, despite the attempted confusion of issues, voiced their sentiments in the following manner as nearly as can be judged by the votes cast for the several Mayoralty candidates.
Favored the maintenance of the five cent fare with universal transfers upon our local transportation lines and insisted that the terms of the 1907 contract ordinances be complied with until a new traction policy is approved through a referendum vote of the people.
Condemned the existing gas situation and the arbitrary collection of excessive gas bills and demanded gas of a better quality at a lower price.
Asked for the lowering of telephone rates and improvement of service in the pending revision.
Approved home rule for Chicago through the repeal of the law creating the State Public Utilities Commission.
Favored freeing the public school system from dictation by interested newspaper lessees of school lands and approved the appointments made by the Mayor to the Board of Education under the new school law.
Resented the autocratic rule of newspapers and their subsidiary organizations in the form of shadowy leagues and bureaus.
My object in enumerating the former items is merely to base a record for future guidance in both executive and legislative functioning.
FIVE CENT FARE UPHELD
Our fight for the continuation of the five cent fare, supported by the people, is so far victorious and I congratulate the people of Chicago upon the decision rendered by the State Public Utilities Commission on April 25, 1919 which prevented an increase in street car fares in the City of Chicago above five cents. I also congratulate the City Law Department for its successful efforts, and especially Mr. Chester E. Cleveland, the attorney in charge who so ably presented the City’s side of the case and defended the people’s interest in this controversy.
INTEGRITY OF ADMINISTRATION
I am deeply grateful to the people of Chicago for the confidence expressed in my administration of municipal affairs, especially after four years of almost continual assault by organized forces possessing exclusive privileges in the columns of the public press and employing the weapons of falsehood and willful misrepresentation insidiously, skillfully and with immunity.
However, as Chief Executive of the City of Chicago standing for principles which I will not yield, I harbor no grievance against any interest nor any individual, seek no revenge and repudiate reprisals. Nor will I permit personal dissatisfaction with anybody or any condition to influence my official judgment. I court the friendship and co-operation of every influence that will magnify the name of Chicago. Every person, every official, every business, every social, racial, religious or political agency and every question will receive equitable consideration at the hands of the Mayor in accordance with my conception of the significance of the office which I have the honor to occupy.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR EXPANSION
The advent of peace following the distress of war opens up possibilities for the expansion of Chicago more extensive than ever before. Our record of achievement is more marvelous than that of any metropolis on earth. Chicago is greater than some nations, and outranks them in wealth, intelligence and population. We have drawn to us people from every quarter of the globe and we are proud of our cosmopolitanism and the degree of contentment which prevails in a citizenship of such widely distributed origin. We have the material, the health, the spirit and the opportunity. Your honorable Body should devise ways and foster the procurement of means whereby the future of Chicago may be as comprehensively and energetically developed as has been its past.
Great and worthy projects lie before us. The Chicago Plan Commission has well defined ideas for the improvement and beautification of the City. The extension of Ogden avenue from Union Park to Lincoln Park, the widening and extension of Robey street and Western avenue from the northern to the southern limits of the City, the widening and improvement of South Water street, the straightening of the River, the erection of a new postoffice, the re-building of the Illinois Central terminal, the development of the entire lake front embodying both commercial and recreational improvements, the completion of the Union Station project and other great passenger and freight terminals, the electrification of all railway terminals, the addition of playgrounds for Chicago’s children, the building of new and better bridges, the improvement of our streets, sewers and water supply. All these are plans in the economical realization of which Your Honorable Body can render priceless service to the people of Chicago. We should not permit petty schemes, political or otherwise , which embody nothing useful but only create enmity between officials to burden and lengthen our proceedings in this chamber in committee rooms, when opportunity, with a great constructive program in hand, practical and possible is knocking at our council doors.
Chicago has performed great wonders in the past. Over twenty-five years ago this city actually realized what seemed to be an amazing vision and constructed and conducted the greatest demonstration ever held, before or since, in the World’s Colombian Exposition. And we can today expand into a city worthy of the ambition of our people and their child if we, charged with the responsibility of government, possess the ingenuity, integrity, thrift and toleration equal to the opportunity.
I have a few specific matters to direct your attention to at this time. Others I will present as occasion offers. In a message submitted to your Honorable Body, October 2, 1916, I noted the fact that the rapid growth of Chicago had completely altered several times, the character of improvements and the class of residents and industries in continually changing local neighborhoods and this condition was detrimental to the physical appearance of neighborhoods and the stability of property and had caused the sacrifice of real estate values running into millions of dollars. There is now pending in the Committee on Municipalities in the House of Representatives at Springfield a zoning bill conferring upon the City Council power to create residential, industrial, commercial and other districts in the city and to regulate classes of buildings, trades and industries within such districts. The bill safeguards the right of objectors and public hearings are provided for. It has already passed the State Senate. The enactment of a good zoning law such as the one proposed will aid the scientific upbuilding of Chicago by protecting homes, helping merchants large and small, and promoting the construction of industrial plants. If this bill becomes a law it will be advisable for your Honorable Body to call into conference representatives of the real estate boards, architects, engineers, builders, manufacturers and labor organizations to assist in its application for the benefit of all and the injury of none, if possible.
The City’s financial and taxing problem is of the most serious moment. It must be met dispassionately and non-politically. The most careful judgment must be exercised in deciding upon a policy to be pursued. But it must be met promptly. I suggest the formation of a concrete advisory body comprised of representatives of your Committee on Finance, members of the General Assembly from Chicago and down-state, a representative of the Board of Assessors and of the Board of Review, a representative of the executive branch of the City government and a representative of the executive branch of the State government. In this connection I beg to refer to my message to your Honorable Body submitted August 14,1918, calling attention to the unjust and inequitably distributed burden of taxation and to a message of Governor Lowden’s on April 19th of this year in which he calls attention to the “inequalities of taxation, the entire escape from taxation by some corporations and individuals and the utterly haphazard assessments of property.
Through the courtesy of the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. David E. Shanahan, a joint session of the General Assembly has been arranged for tomorrow in Springfield before which I have been invited to speak upon the City’s financial needs. I shall leave at midnight tonight on this mission and will recommend to the General Assembly such legislation as will provide additional revenue to meet the estimates of the City Departments and your Honorable Body in providing for corporate needs.
DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC SERVICE
Complaints relative to the quality and price of gas continue to be received by the Department of Public Service. These together with telephone complaints and complaints as to traction service, make this department a busy one and of value in protecting the people in controversies with public utility corporations over charges and service. It is regrettable that not enough help is supplied this Department to keep its work up to the minute because prompt relief is what the people are seeking and are entitled to in dealing with these powerful agencies. I recommend that you give early consideration to the matter of extending the operations of this department by providing for the employment of more persons to carry on its work.
TELEPHONE RATE REVISION
There is a general demand upon the part of the people for a reduction in telephone rates and an improvement of the service, judged from the numerous complaints received. Your Honorable Body has under consideration the question of the revision of the rates charged by the Chicago Telephone Company for its service in the City of Chicago under the terms to the ordinance passed in 1913 which fixed the maximum rates for a period of five years. This ordinance makes provision for meters on measured service lines to be installed by the Company at the request of subscribers. No meters have been installed in Chicago as yet. It is my suggestion that your committee consider the advisability at this period of requiring the actual installation of meters to protect lessees and subscribers in checking the accuracy of the number of outgoing messages they are charged with from time to time.
I again urge your Honorable Body to give serious consideration to the expansion of the Police Department, to provide a greater force, to revise the present confusing provisions of the police ordinances, particularly as to organization, to provide for the erection a modern police administration building which will include the courts and a separate building for the Police and Fire Alarm telegraph systems surrounded by open ground where they can be adequately safeguarded.
JOBS FOR RETURNING SOLDIERS
Many of our returning soldiers and sailors are seeking positions with both the Police and Fire Departments. They furnish the best possible material for these services. Our Civil Service examinations accord these men almost exclusive preference for this kind of work on account of the age, physical and experience standards imposed. We should aid the employment of these men in every direction possible both with private employers and in the public service.
Permit me to again refer to the results of the last election. Upon every appearance which I made upon the public platform I discussed with the people assembled the question of the administration of our public schools. I stated unequivocally time and again that if I was re-elected I would reappoint the members of the Board of Education who were deprived of their offices through a technical interpretation of law by the Supreme Court. Our local courts, Circuit and Appellate, and three members of our Supreme bench, including the Chicago member, upheld my appointees. Four other judges from sections of the State outside of Chicago reversed the foregoing judicial opinion. The people, however, have spoken on this vital issue. They want the public school system restored to the control of their representatives and not continued in the control of representatives of mercenary newspapers profiteering on school properties which they hold. I shall accordingly submit to your Honorable Body in the very near future names of persons for approval as members of the Board of Education of the City of Chicago under the new school law, and I sincerely trust that the City Council will abide by the express will of the people.
It is to be noted with much satisfaction that the Illinois Legislature is promoting waterway legislation by the passage of a bill authorizing the issuance of twenty million dollars worth of bonds for waterway construction. This means much to Chicago by providing a water route from this city to the Illinois River. It will add to our commercial developments as well as promote new modes of passengers travel.
HIGH COST OF LIVING
No problem is of more vital concern to the people of Chicago than the continually increasing prices of the necessities of life particularly articles of food.
I advocate the passage of national and state laws providing imprisonment for the fixing of prices in defiance of the laws of supply and demand. The municipal authorities, however, should do what they can to mitigate the burden of the people under existing conditions. We have an ordinance passed by your Honorable Body December 9, 1912 which seeks to regulate the period of time for keeping foods in cold storage and otherwise regulating the conduct of cold storage warehouses. The Commissioner of Health is empowered to supervise inspections for such purposes and to appoint agents to make same. No provision has ever been made, however, for the employment of such agents. The Commissioner of Health has done everything possible with the force at his command and has made periodical investigations. These inspections should be made not less frequently than once in every three months as the ordinance provides. This means continual work in one line of activity by a number of persons. I therefore recommend that your Committee on Finance confer with the Commissioner of Health for the purpose of making adequate appropriations for the more rigid application of the terms of this ordinance or strengthening its provisions, for the protection of the people against the extortionate demands of combinations maintained by food profiteers who withhold foods from the market to purposely curtail the supply and fix prices in excess of the scale which normal conditions justify.
“MUNICIPAL VOTERS’ LEAGUE”
In my first annual message and in subsequent communications addressed to your Honorable Body I have called attention to the operations of the Municipal Voters’ League and the damage of a system which excludes many of the duly elected aldermen from exercising any voice in the selection of committees where ninety per cent of the Council’s business is transacted. It is a violation of the principle upon which this government was founded—“Taxation without representation”. This so-called organization works under a cloak of secrecy and persistently refuses to make public the sources of its influence or its funds, although assuming at all times to speak in the name of the people. We have recently been vouchsafed the information that a self-perpetuating committee of nine is the “League” and that no other voters exercise any voice in its management. The truth is that all its pronouncements and endorsements and denunciations of aldermen and municipal policies are the opinions of Mr. Victor F. Lawson, owner of the Chicago Daily News and partly represent the dictatorship which this one citizen seeks to exercise over all the other citizens of Chicago and elsewhere.
Mr. Victor Lawson advocated the vicious traction legislation which was defeated by the people last fall. He has very recently, and while the City’s plea for the five cent fare was pending and undecided before the State Public Utilities Commission, sought to influence that body by editorial comment in favor of a seven cent fare. The Municipal Voters’ League have the unrestricted freedom of his columns, the so-called “reports” being published in full, and the aldermen endorsed by the “League” and the aldermen condemned by the “League” are likewise endorsed and condemned by Lawson and vice versa.
I have no interest whatever in the personnel of Council Committees, but the heads of administrative departments must necessarily seek their aid and cooperation in performing public work.
With the Committees organized by the “League” and contrary to the expressed will of the people, an effectual system is enforced of subverting the will of the people and imposing the will of the Municipal Voters’ League and Mr. Victor Lawson.
Let us hope that at some future time this conspiracy against popular government will be overthrown and that the City Council, represented by its full membership, independently and of its own initiative will be permitted to organize in its own Chamber in the City Hall.
I intend to urge upon our people and especially our local business men, propaganda for the boosting of Chicago. Our City has been defamed by certain selfish newspapers who have probably found avenues of profit in pursuing such a course. I cannot see their object, but object there must be, to cause them to ridicule Chicago, to paint it as a criminal’s stamping ground and as a smoky, filthy place to either live or do business. As a matter of truth, Chicago is a wonder city, entitled to homage and respect the world over. It is the most orderly and law-abiding of all the big cities on earth and it is the cleanest, healthiest place and the greatest metropolitan summer resort on this, or any other continent. In criticizing one group of newspapers for maligning the city it is only fair to call commendatory attention to another group which is supporting the city as a community and advocating its progress and prosperity. The Chicago Herald-Examiner and the Chicago American are rendering loyal service to our home town and its people as its recent news and editorial articles will testify. By tearing the mask off of a small but noisy group of pretentious, sanctimonious individuals, who in reality have been sacking the town instead of saving it , thousands upon thousands of real, red-blooded citizens have been shown the true color of the fake reforms and frame-ups that have been going on for years. Chicago returns many thanks to the two newspapers just mentioned and hopes that “booming the town” will become a fixed habit in this community.
In seeking your co-operation for the good of the City, I urge you to forward to me at any time suggestions for improvement in departmental or bureau administration. If you desire to lodge complaint against any employee of the City or against any existing condition I have a standard form for detailing items of such nature which may be obtained at my office. I invite your attention to a communication which I sent to the heads of all Departments and Bureaus under date of April 18, 1919, and a copy of which I append hereto.
In presiding over the deliberations of your Honorable Body I shall exercise no personal feelings. I shall continue to rule with sincere intention of fairness upon all matters presented for my determination. All aldermen have equal rights and privileges upon this floor subject to your rules and parliamentary practice. Such rights and privileges I shall seek to preserve. With allowances for each other’s shortcomings, I sincerely hope that our proceedings may be conducted orderly and courteously throughout the year.
- Chicago City Council. Journal of the Proceedings, April 28, 1919, p. 8–11.