Mayor Martin H. Kennelly Inaugural Address, 1951

Martin H. Kennelly Biography

Inauguration date: April 19, 1951

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

Governor Stevenson, Mayor Carter Harrison, Dr. Fowler, Father Picard, Distinguished Visitors, and Members of the City Council:

Four years ago, in this Council Chamber, we set out to build a stronger, a more responsive, a more dependable local government.

We undertook to prove that by lifting our own horizons, we could raise the reputation of this great city of ours. Cynics said it couldn’t be done. Some called it a useless experiment—doomed to failure. It was maintained in some quarters that big city government could not be changed.

But tonight, four years after we initiated the kind of government the people asked for, you and I, who have just taken the oath of office, have positive reaffirmation of our belief that the confidence of the people, combined with some degree of administrative daring and resourcefulness, can be made to work many changes. In this instance, it made a fact of theory, and reality of an idea.

A majority of the voters have recently expressed approval of the policies and principles this administration stands for.

We have been given a new order to carry on—to consolidate the gains that have been made, to expand and extend those gains.

The people voted for Chicago. They have given us the green light to build an even bigger and better city.

I am deeply grateful to the people of my home town for the new opportunity they have given me to serve. I know that every one of you who sits in the City Council is equally appreciative of having been chosen to participate in what we must make a highly constructive period in our municipal history. There can be no greater incentive to this ambition than the inspiration of the people’s confidence.

Tonight, we who are of the local governments must surely be thinking chiefly of how we are to prove worthy of the new honors, the great responsibilities, which faith in our purposes has given us.

Facing the future as we do, this seems the opportune time to examine the principal factors which contributed to the success of the undertaking we jointly initiated back in 1947. The formula has proven itself, it should continue to serve us well as we move forward.

First among those factors I would place the policy we put into effect of making partisan politics secondary to public service.

I am quite sure that none of us have to fear we’ll get to be too good at governing. We can never go too far in that direction. Human frailty, if not politics, won’t let us.

We all know that perfection is unattainable. But that is no reason for lowering our sights. If the goal is high enough, the level of the gains made will inevitably be within the proximity of first-rate performance. And our sincerity, and our integrity, should cover any ordinary mistakes.

There can be no doubt that the citizens of this community actively desire good government. It is more than merely a sentimental wish. It is an emphatic directive, twice expressed, in 1947 and again in 1951, compelling us to do not only those things which improve the physical plant, but to strive constantly to improve the tone of local government.

As it has been since 1947, my administration during the next four years will be dedicated to these objectives.

The pattern of adherence to sound moral values in government has been well established. Its basis is efficiency, economy, integrity, impartiality—and the service of only one special interest—the general welfare. There must be no deviation from this standard.

People who know the facts are aware that, along with improving the services rendered by government, we have been improving the facilities for giving service. Here, again, the pattern is well established. Standards have been set up for permanency. As a result, the progress in making physical improvements during the next few years should be steadier and swifter than it has been before.

This administration has been fortunate in having first rate planning. Actually, almost fifty percent of the day to day job we do is taken up with planning for the future. Every project we have initiated has been thoroughly studied for its usefulness to the greatest number of people.

Time does not permit full description of all the projects either blue-printed or actually under way to make Chicago the city of great modern public works that we want it to be.

In outline, however, here are the projects we should be able to finish during the next four years:

The Wacker Drive extension to Congress Street which has now been completed as far as Washington Street. Total cost will be $12 million dollars.

The Outer Drive extension from Foster Avenue to Hollywood Avenue. The city, the Chicago Park District, the County of Cook and the State of Illinois are sharing in the $5 million dollar cost of this improvement.

The Congress Street superhighway and Congress Street bridge. Total cost—$80 million dollars.

Approximately $32 million dollars has already been expended on these projects. The remaining $65 million dollars to be expended will be available from bond issue and motor fuel tax funds.

Work on the construction of the West Side subway to Central Avenue has already been initiated and sufficient funds are available to carry this project forward during the present year. The total cost will be $25 million dollars. Plans for financing these tunnels are being developed.

Building of the West Side subway and of the Washington-Jackson tunnels is of the utmost importance, and it is the administration’s intention to vigorously prosecute the completion of these projects.

Construction of the Northwest Superhighway, to be completed within seven years, will cost a total of $128 million dollars. The city’s share of the cost of this improvement, in which the County and the State are participating, will be available from bond funds and Motor Fuel Tax.

We will continue to push development of the Southwest Side Superhighway which can be completed during the next seven years. Total cost is estimated at $30 million dollars.

The South Outer Drive extension, providing grade separations from 47th street to 66th street, and to cost $5 million dollars, is planned for completion within the next five to seven years, and is to be financed from motor fuel tax funds.

The next four years will bring to virtual completion our sewer construction program—the largest undertaking of its kind in the history of the city. For this $30 million dollars is available.

The Department of Public Works plans the construction during the same period of new bridges at Van Buren street, Harrison street, and 95th street. For these improvements, bond issues totaling $8 million dollars should be submitted for public approval.

Among other improvements to be finished during the next four years are the following:

Construction of eight new fire stations and two new police stations. Four of the fire stations will replace structures more than seventy years old and one of the new police buildings will also be a replacement of an old unsanitary building. This would require a new bond issue of $2 million dollars.

A bond issue of $8 million dollars for new street lighting to be installed during the next four years must also be submitted. This will provide ten thousand new street lights and will permit the rehabilitation of twenty percent of the old facilities while at the same time keeping up with requirements of newly developed residential and business neighborhoods.

The problem of garbage disposal is one of the most difficult we have to contend with. Exhaustive study of the situation has plainly indicated that the city must come eventually to the incineration method of disposal. It is, therefore, proposed that a bond issue of $2 million dollars be submitted to provide money to get the incineration program under way.

One of the most important improvements we have initiated is the development of water filtration facilities to service the great concentration of population on the North and West Sides of the City. This is an $85 million dollar project and will take six years to build. The financing of this plant will be through the issuance of water revenue bonds or certificates, payable from water revenue only.

In this connection, and also in the operation of the water works of the city, it will be necessary that we immediately undertake a study of the rates in effect at the present, and what increases will be necessary to maintain the proper operation and maintenance of the water plant, and to provide the revenue necessary for the new bond issue to finance the filtration plant. At the same time, we must persist in our efforts to reduce the wastage and leakage of water.

During the next four years we should expend approximately $25 million dollars in the reconstruction and re-surfacing of two hundred and fifty miles of the city’s streets. Funds for this program are expected to be available from motor fuel taxes.

Airport improvements in this, the air crossroads of the world, are a continuing need, both at Midway and O’Hare Field. The Department of Public Works and the airport consultant are fully alert to these requirements, and are engaged in developing plans for financing the work to be done.

During the next four years we will expend $1 million five hundred thousand dollars for the construction of fifty new playgrounds. Funds are available from existing bond issues.

We will also plant one hundred thousand new trees, and funds are available for this undertaking.

Now at the state of decision is the question of the use of Washington street and Randolph street as one-way streets. No matter in which way the flow of traffic may be directed for these streets, the principle consideration will be that they be fitted into a scheme which will mesh with plans for traffic control in the entire downtown area. The cost of this Randolph-Washington Street improvement, for which money will be available from current revenue, is estimated at $500 thousand dollars.

I would like to direct the attention of the City Council at this time to the Chicago Board of Education’s proposed $50 million dollar bond issue for new school construction during the next six to eight years. I intend personally to give this program full support and I recommend that the members of the Council lend to it the weight of their individual and collective influence.

Of direct and of the most vital concern to all of us is the financing of the corporate fund of the City of Chicago. The public sometimes confuses this with bond issue expenditures, but of course the revenues from bond issues and motor fuel taxes are earmarked for specific purposes, and cannot be used for corporate, or, as it is sometimes called, the housekeeping budget account. Out of corporate funds is paid the cost of operating such protective services as police, fire, health and sanitation. These are the functions which you, as members of the City Council, and I, as Mayor, are most closely concerned with.

The revenue to meet these appropriations and of the Corporate Fund come from property taxes and miscellaneous revenue such as, licenses, utility franchise taxes, permits and fees.

The property tax was limited by the Legislature, back in 1946, to a fixed amount of $41 million dollars. It must be obvious to everyone that in the City of Chicago and to the members of the Legislature that the operation of the City Government cannot be limited to a figure that was set in 1946.

The Legislature has recognized the need of other governmental agencies, such as the School Board, Sanitary District, and County of Coo, by removing pegged levies and establishing rates enabling them to meet their obligations. All we have ever asked of the Legislature is the same consideration other local taxing bodies have had.

My personal conviction is that the taxpayers of this city and county already pay enough taxes to make the wheels of government go around. Distribution of the tax dollar is inequitable as far as the city of Chicago corporate fund is concerned.

I have said repeatedly that too much of the tax dollar goes to Washington and Springfield. Not enough of it stays home, or comes back where the revenues are produced.

It is my intention to go to Springfield next week to meet with the Governor and the members of the General Assembly to work out a just and sound solution of this very pressing financial problem.

We will advise the Legislature of the fact that during the last four years, appropriations for corporate purposes, despite greatly increased costs of operation, have increased only four percent. We will point out the need for better salaries for police, fire and other departmental employees, and for other purposes.

In the police department alone, we have immediate need for between five and six hundred additional men.

A number of plans for corporate fund relief have been suggested.

In addition to the present set up of revenues now obtained from property taxes and miscellaneous sources, the corporate fund must have a minimum of $15 million dollars more from whatever plan of relief may be adopted.

In order not to prejudice any action taken by the Legislature, I will refrain at this time from further discussion of any of the proposed remedial measures. The question is certainly not a partisan matter, and should not be considered as such either at this end, or at Springfield.

Assuming that the merit of our proposals will be manifest to the General Assembly, and that the result will be removal of those obstacles to our progress of which I have spoken, it seems to me our position is altogether an enviable one.

Every department of local government has been improved, and our experience shows the way to further improvements. The door is open to us for new accomplishment in many directions.

Much has been done, for instance, to improve the Chicago police department. But we have no intention of resting on our oars. We are working to make the department the best in the country—a completely professional organization fully equipped to do its job. The department personnel ranks with the country’s best crime-fighting forces. It will soon have the full benefits of additional training methods and other improvements it has long needed.

In the meantime, there will be no compromise in our continuing fight on organized crime, or on crime in all its categories.

We did not win an election to abdicate our powers to any invisible government.

We will attack commercialized crime and vice from every side. Vice and crime as a business has no place in Chicago. Every resource at our command will be used to stamp it out, and I know the City Council will lend every assistance to this campaign.

No big city in the country has already done more to break up syndicated gambling. We have never relaxed our drive to dry up this source of organized crime’s revenues.

The unprecedented spread of the traffic in narcotics, a postwar development peculiar to all big cities, presents a problem that has had, and must continue to have, concentrated attention. The great gravity of this illicit commerce lies in its menace to the youth of our city. In this connection, I would like to recommend to county and state authorities consideration of the feasibility of setting aside at least part of some existing hospital for the treatment of drug addicts in the metropolitan area.

Incidentally, I would like to point out that the drug traffic, along with the perennial problem of gambling, is more than a police problem. It is a serious social question. Society itself, it seems to me, must in the end provide the really effective answer to social problems. And that is another reason why this administration has unfailingly sought to enlist citizen-interest in the functions of the local government. Important strides have been made in this direction, and the result has been tremendous stimulation to better performance all along the line.

Our housing and redevelopment—slum clearance program, started in 1947, has made considerable progress. Sixty-five percent of the units in the $28 million dollar relocation program have been completed and are now occupied. The balance will be finished this year.

In the last year and one-half, the Chicago Land Clearance Commission has acquired three-fourths of the South Side property upon which the New York Life Insurance Company will build 1,400 apartments, replacing some of the city’s worst slums.

The Chicago Dwellings Association program is also making progress in providing housing for middle-income group families. One of its projects, on the South Side, will be started early this summer, and four additional sites are under council consideration.

The Chicago Housing Authority program, which was approved by the City Council, is in work and involves slum clearance and housing for low-income group families. I am advised that at least a portion of this important program will be under construction in a few months.

Slum clearance must continue to be one of our chief objectives.

Our civil defense plans are said to be a model for the nation. No city has spent more time, and less money, or done more in this activity.

The history of local transportation in the city of Chicago is well known to most of us, as it is to the car-riders. For years, the transit system was a political football. Largely as a result of this, the operating companies became bankrupt, both financially, and in the service and equipment they provided.

Back in 1945, the city government, the state government, and the Legislature decided to do something about the situation. They created the Chicago Transit Authority, which took over operation of the surface and rapid transit lines in 1947.

Under the law, this agency is separate and distinct from the municipal government. Its autonomy should not mean, however, and actually it has not meant, that the city administration and city council should abandon their interest in the operation of local transportation, which is of such vital importance to the every day life of Chicagoans.

There must be developed a more intimate relationship between the city government, as the elected representatives of the people, and the CTA management. Whatever strengthening of the city government’s facilities is necessary to perform this function, should be provided. I recommend to the City Council a re-examination of its local transportation committee set-up, in order that improved liaison with CTA may be worked out.

I have suggested to the chairman of the CTA board that there be made available to council members a quarterly report, prepared by transit engineering experts, outside experts, on the service and the entire operation. I am sure this will be helpful.

Transportation services must be improved. I am confident this can be done.

It has been a contribution of immeasurable value during the last four years that the City Council has been the most active and the most interested in many years. Most of you have been in the city service during the past four years, and many of you have given much longer periods of time to the representation of the people of your wards and to the city as a whole.

I know you feel as I do, and as City Clerk Schreiber and City Treasurer Milota do, that a very grave responsibility goes with the leadership we have just formally accepted.

Virtually everything that we do officially has its effect upon the business life of the community, and upon the prosperity of the people. Chicago is a “united nations’” within itself. The harmony we have in human relationships, among people of many divergent backgrounds, as well as in management-labor relations, is the envy of many other big cities. We must all work untiringly to maintain this concord, and to do all we can to make Chicago attractive to new business and industry. New ventures in these fields spell greater employment opportunities, more abundant lives for Chicagoans.

We have come a long way together in a comparatively short period of time. We have collaborated in making memorable municipal history. With the help of new members, and with the new members having our help, we can continue to achieve greatly for Chicago.

We must strive, not only to excel past performances in building better government, we must aim to establish standards that cannot readily be improved. We owe this both to our heritage, and to generations of Chicagoans who will come after us.

For myself, I ask that you continue to give me freely of your understanding, your patience, and your experience. I pledge you the full return on my part of these essentials to mutual achievement for the public welfare.

For my administration, I bespeak the continued support of all citizens and groups interested in promoting good government. Without the aid and approval of such representative, unofficial agencies, and without the great influence the metropolitan and community press is capable of wielding in shaping the destiny of the city, we could easily lose sight of the ideals we seek to serve.

There is in the very atmosphere here tonight, it seems to me, the strong spirit of our determination to drive forward to the fulfillment of our objectives.

Our most devout hope must surely be that what we are setting out to do can be done in an era of peace at home, and peace abroad.

Our prayers must be for the strength and enlightenment we must have to carry on. God willing, we will have these requisites to the successful completion of the mission that is ours.


  • Chicago City Council. Journal of the Proceedings, April 19, 1951, p. 3–7.
  • Municipal Reference Collection files.
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