Mayor Edward J. Kelly Inaugural Address, 1939

Edward J. Kelly Biography

Inauguration date: April 12, 1939

This speech is recorded as it first appeared in print. Archaic spelling and misspellings in the original document have not been corrected.

Gentlemen of the Council: We are setting out tonight on another cycle of construction and progress for Chicago. We are restless in this hour to meet the challenge of improvement as we were four years ago.

At that time nearly 800,000 citizens of Chicago gave majority consent to the aggressive aims and balanced service of our administration.

At this time we go forward with the approval of over 800,000 citizens to expand that service—and round out a practical program for the continued health and general security of our people.

Business is restless for more production and sales.

Labor is restless for more employment and better working conditions.

Youth is restless for more opportunities to achieve economic freedom and social advancement.

Government is restless for more cooperation—to prevent any lapse in its essential functions—and to be prepared for any emergency of responsible political action.

Every item in the budget of progress calls for an economy in debate as well as dollars.

Common-sense and team-work can be our best offensive in the warfare on wasted words.

Intelligent and courageous leadership creates confidence rather than confusion.

Chicago is due to hit pay-dirt on many projects during the next four years, that have been long in the making and doing.

The constant exchange of ideas—and the systematic study of neighborhood needs in this cleaning house of municipal affairs, has created an intense civic vigilance among our people.

Each Alderman in Chicago represents—on the average—about seventy thousand people.

Each ward a city within a city.

In all the cross-currents of community activities, he must be the impartial friend of labor and business—the counsellor of youth—the watch-dog against municipal waste—the spokesman of the taxpayer—the good provider for the under-privileged—and the guardian of the public assets in his district.

There are fifty voices here tonight that represent the voice of Chicago!

That is the voice that in facing any struggle—or in safe-guarding our civic rights—has been heard, time and again, to say: WE CAN—and—WE WILL!

No city the size of Chicago—and so richly endowed with all the aspirations and objectives of this teeming melting-pot—can match our eagerness and striving for getting the most out of life.

Our test of sound policies is very simple: Will they work?

When we have been faced with emergencies of relief—and health—and municipal credit, we haven’t always been guided by traditions and precedents that passed the test twenty years ago.

What you and I want to know is: Are they sound today? Will they work now? Are we patching some thread-bare tradition or design for progress that worked yesterday and is a wash-out today?

There is nothing sacred about a precedent in government when people are starving—or the tax load is unbearable.

There is nothing inspiring about a tradition that straight-jackets our ability to meet the changing needs of changing times.

The new Council, by popular will, has received a transfusion in new brains and new blood.

During the past four years we have enjoyed an intelligent harmony in working for the progress of Chicago—and I am grateful to every member of that Council for their loyalty and service to our city.

That cooperative effort—and level-headed action—witnessed the completion of many sound public projects … and welded a physical and moral security for our citizens that kept us in the front rank of progressive cities throughout the nation.

In bidding you new Aldermen welcome and Godspeed in your new duties,—I would emphasize again that the ambition of Chicago is greater than the personal ambition of any man—just as an All-Chicago welfare is more vital than the advancement of any one community.

All of us face in our new responsibilities—when the greatest good for the greatest number is at stake—the need for blending differences of opinion.

We must adjourn any petty or personal politics for the sake of the common good.

A common understanding of our civic problems—through intelligent research—sound planning and practical execution—is our fundamental purpose.

The balance sheet of municipal service will reveal many items that cannot be sacrificed for any kind of economy—and many items under “unfinished business” which will require your soundest deliberation.

The problem of relief is the most important.

We must provide for the unemployed—and for those unable to work—every measure of adequate sustenance, without further jeopardy to local taxes.

We know what a staggering burden of taxation would be thrown back on states and cities, if Federal support on relief were suddenly withdrawn.

We must assure the continuance of Federal assistance—and devise those projects for work relief that will save the self-respect of the jobless, without draining our own treasury or the pocket-books of our property owners.

Our plans for safety trunk highways have already passed the incubation stage.

Your most prudent counsel will be needed to insure balanced benefits to all of our neighborhoods.

Here again we must achieve these improvements without additional taxation, or special assessments.

We know how vital the building of these safety thoroughfares can be in providing work and wages—stimulating trade—and unifying our communities.

The money that accrues from the state motor vehicle gas tax is ample to guarantee these sound improvements—but there are many details still to be thrashed out in these council chambers.

Our achievement of a Unification Traction Ordinance—subject to public referendum—is now in the making.

We know what this coordination of our traction system will mean to the progress of Chicago—and the time to weed out any jokers or short-sighted features of the Ordinance, will be before and not after the referendum.

The riding public—the traction employees—and our business interests, large and small,—are all entitled to the best and most workable Ordinance that can be devised.

The completion of our subways—the expansion of our filtration system—our bridges, under-passes and sewers—must be planned for a modern streamlined city whose capacity for expansion adds up in economy and wise planning.

Imperative and ready for immediate usefulness must be the new Plan commission for Chicago—that is thinking of the city of tomorrow, as well as of today.

It must have affirmative powers to plan worthwhile improvements—as well as negative powers to veto haphazard building.

The day of sprawling neighborhoods is over.

Our new Building Code, completed by the last Council (after cutting a quarter-century of red tape) has been responsible for a real building spurt in Chicago.

This stimulus in construction—releasing private capital and increasing sound investments in home ownership (as developed by the Federal Housing Administration) is one of the best assets of our present neighborhood growth.

There are certain demands for adequate zoning—and neighborhood rehabilitation—that will require the ever-ready cooperation of every Council member.

The stability of property values—and the public works that improve our neighborhoods—must be planned for a unified city.

One of the most compelling problems in municipal affairs today is adequate provision for the leisure time of our citizens—young and old.

We must plan for more small parks—more breathing spots—in our various neighborhoods, that will provide recreational opportunities for every member of the family.

Our playgrounds—our schools—and our fieldhouses—must offer every opportunity to build in our citzens of tomorrow a sound mind in a sound body.

These are the spiritual assets that we must safeguard to increase our moral security.

The new Council Committee on Labor and Industrial Relations—should become a vital cog in the machinery of our progress—not alone to attract more conventions—create wider markets and insure added employment through attracting new industries—but to insure peaceful negotiations between labor and capital.

The most serious threat to cooperative public action and opinion in these times—is the critic without a plan—the civic obstructionist—without a remedy.

We must be on guard against any pressure group—however strong in its lobby or intrenched in its financial interest—that may unbalance the benefits of a coordinated city.

We are the airway … the highway … the railway and the waterway of the nation.

The wheel of the country’s agriculture and commercial enterprise—turns on a Chicago axle—and there must be an honest—and fair-weighing—comparison of all projects proposed for the city’s betterment.

We will not resist criticism if it is constructive.

We will not side-step a betterment if ALL interests are better served.

And there must never be a mark-down in our loyalty to those who have entrusted us with the destiny of Chicago.

Chicago is grateful to the sentinels of our safety—our Police, and Fire—and Health Departments.

Chicago acknowledges with increasing respect our official watchdogs of municipal credit—the engineers of our public works—and all of the department heads and faithful public servants.

The people of Chicago will fight any force that would weaken the morale of our municipal employes.

We are setting out tonight to lend added encouragement—and build more practical safeguards for the future of our boys and girls.

We are setting out tonight to re-affirm our recognition of labor’s rights—in the equality and justice of their dealings with capital—which, in turn, is entitled to the same square deal.

We are setting out tonight to retain our place as the cross-roads of trade and culture and democracy in America.

We have the blue-prints and the intelligence—the vision and the experience to achieve our aims.

Together you and I can make the next four years the most progressive in accomplishments in Chicago’s history.

Together you and I can keep the faith of Chicago’s citizens united and free.

Together you and I can keep the door of opportunity open—and the lamps of liberty well-lighted in this stronghold of democracy.

The majority mandate on April 4th from the citizens of Chicago said PULL TOGETHER FOR PROGRESS!

And pull together we will!



  • Chicago City Council. Journal of the Proceedings, April 12, 1939, p. 3–5.
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