Inauguration date: April 20, 1955
This speech is recorded as it first appeared in print. Archaic spelling and misspellings in the original document have not been corrected.
Tonight I find it difficult to express to the people of Chicago my mingled feelings of challenge and confidence, of pride and humility. I have lived all my life in a neighborhood of Chicago—all that I am I owe to the influence of my family, our neighborhood and our city.
I have a deep pride in being part of the life of that neighborhood. I share in its problems and I know the needs of its people. Chicago is a city of neighborhoods and I resolve to be the mayor of all the neighborhoods—of all people of Chicago.
The aldermen of the city council are men who have been chosen by their communities to represent them. Their mission must be the same as mine. Tonight we start our job of carrying out the mandate given us by our fellow citizens. I know you are as eager as I am to accept the challenge of making our neighborhoods and our city a better place in which to live. The structure of our city government follows the general pattern of American government in that it has legislative, executive and judicial branches. The legislative branch is the city council, the executive—the mayor.
This is a council governed city. The aldermen were selected by the voters in their wards to represent their will. The needs of the wards are various. In some wards the pressing need may be better police protection—in others, adequate sewage disposal—in still others, housing or conservation or transportation. The aldermen know intimately the needs of the people in their area. These people are their neighbors. So we find it natural that aldermen—representing their constituents—will be more concerned about some matters than others—that they will resist change in some endeavors and will welcome changes in others.
This is also true of representative government in Congress and in the State legislature. A natural consequence of this process is a slowing down of some governmental activity. In some instances the interests of all the people may be endangered or overlooked. It has been charged that the city of Chicago has been slow in achieving some urgently needed improvements. If at times the council has been slow, it is because aldermen and community leaders have been striving to protect their people and their neighborhoods.
I believe in that principle. And in most cases what is good for the neighborhood is good for the city.
The city council, however, is the legislative branch of government for the entire city, and each alderman is duty bound to pass laws for the interest of all the people. The city—not the ward—must command first allegiance. No individual or group—no political party or political faction—should have the right to block that which is good for all the city—or to attempt to pass ordinances contrary to the interest of all Chicago.
I ran as a Democratic candidate for mayor of Chicago. I am proud to be a Democrat.
Tonight, however, as Mayor of Chicago—I want to declare for all to hear—that my employer is all the people of Chicago—Democrats, Republicans, and Independents—of every economic group, of every neighborhood and every community.
I have no intention of interfering in any way with the proper functions of the city council. But, as Mayor of Chicago, it is my duty to provide leadership for those measures which are essential to the interests of all the people—and, if necessary, to exercise the power of veto against any measures which would be harmful to the people.
The City Council has under consideration measures which will improve and modernize city government. I refer to the proposals of the Home Rule Commission.
The council has affirmed the transfer of budget making to the Mayor’s office and the creation of the office of Deputy Mayor.
I hope that the council will pass the recommendations of the commission which are now before it. These are bills that would relieve the council of administrative and technical duties. They would permit the aldermen to devote most of their time to legislation.
Many of the Home Rule recommendations would give added duties and responsibilities to the mayor and his department heads. It must never be forgotten, however, that the city council as the legislative body has the ultimate authority over the city government. Just as I fully accept the duties and responsibilities of the executive office, so do I recognize the duties and responsibilities of the City Council.
In the recent intense and bitter campaign many of the issues raised were designed to confuse and mislead. Tonight, as I begin my four years as mayor, I ask nothing more of the people of Chicago and the City Council than to judge me by actions and accomplishments in the next four years as Chief Executive of this great city.
I want to express the appreciation and admiration which I know all the people of Chicago have for the administration of Martin Kennelly. He will always be remembered as a Mayor who made important contributions to his city.
Chicago can be thankful that under his administration and through the cooperation of the City Council much was accomplished. There are great projects under way—slum clearance—new housing—school building—superhighways—street—lighting projects—neighborhood redevelopment—off-street parking in neighborhood communities—and many other improvements. I shall not only support these projects, I shall speed them vigorously and with energy. I will permit nothing to stand in the way of Chicago’s growing civic consciousness and civic integrity.
In the period before us, there are a great many things to do—great problems to overcome.
During the war, and the difficult period of readjustment which followed it, the people of Chicago, and the nation, accepted the inevitable limitations and shortages. These conditions affected essential services, prevented much needed improvements and curtailed even normal maintenance.
We are all aware of the problems which have arisen—problems that all cities have in common—housing, police protection, human relations, juvenile delinquency, transportation and schools. Some of these problems have their roots in the years of war-time stress and post-war adjustment. Others are natural consequences of urban growth and population pressures.
We not only have to cope with our present needs, but to answer the growing demand by our citizens for new services. I do not believe that the purpose of government is to provide the vital services at their minimum. It isn’t enough to dispose of garbage in such a way as to meet minimum health standards. It isn’t enough to have a transportation system which barely meets minimum needs and operates at a loss.
We can’t be satisfied with a school system in which 14 thousand students must attend double shift schools, and where classes are overcrowded and where school buildings are old and dilapidated.
We want the finest police and fire departments in the nation.
We must provide the opportunity for every citizen to have decent housing. We must have slum clearance. While we are clearing the slums, we must prevent the spread of blight into other neighborhoods.
These are immediate problems. These are the things that the people of Chicago want now. There are long-range problems to consider also—and we will initiate and encourage the development of programs and projects to meet them. But we must not scatter our man power, our resources, or dissipate our time on what the city should have—when there is so much that the city must have. We must take first things first. We must concentrate our efforts on city services which are essential to keep the people of Chicago the healthiest, best protected and most prosperous in the nation. These are the things that our people want now. These are the services which make a city strong and vigorous. They make our city a better place in which to live.
In would be difficult, and perhaps unwise, to say which of the programs of the city should be given priority. But, underlying all our problems, and basic to all our programs, is the city’s desperate need for additional revenue. No one knows this better than the members of the city council.
We will strive to eliminate waste. We will economize and increase our efficiency. But no matter how successful we are in achieving these goals, we still will not be able to give minimum essential services unless the State legislature unlocks the handcuffs on our revenue power.
The members of the State legislature know full well what it takes to operate a city and that taxes on property cannot meet the costs of essential services of the second largest city in the nation.
In the past years, the city administration and city council have unceasingly sought additional revenue from the state, as well as new sources of non-property revenue to meet the continual rising cost of government.
Many proposals have been made to the state by the cities for additional revenue from the state as well as powers to raise non-property revenue. Thus far the state has given the cities very little relief.
In 1952, the Mayor’s commission on revenue, which was not a political commission in any way, analyzed the needs of Chicago. This non-partisan commission estimated that for corporate purposes, the city needed immediately 23 million dollars in additional revenue.
The commission’s recommendations for additional tax powers were presented to the legislature. The result was to make available not more than five and a half million of the 23 million dollars needed. The city was left helpless in the face of rising costs.
The legislature is now in session. We will present Chicago’s needs for additional revenue from the state—and for authority to obtain more non-property revenue to maintain and improve the city’s services.
We will go to the legislature as often as necessary.
We are not asking for special privileges. We are asking for what we think we are justly and rightfully entitled to.
In this task—as well as in meeting other basic problems of the city—I shall urge the active cooperation and support from individuals, business, civic, and labor organizations and community groups.
This task can only be accomplished by teamwork, cooperation and unity. It is not a political problem but a civic problem. In the very near future, I shall call a meeting of representatives of all interests in Chicago to join with me and the city council in preparing an integrated legislative program to bring Chicago the things it vitally needs.
The program presented to the legislature will represent a program for Chicago. And the state must answer to the people of Chicago.
There are many problems before us that demand immediate attention and action.
There is no dispute among us that we need more police and a better police department—that we need more schools and more teachers—that government should be continuously streamlined and modernized—that there must be something done to improve our transportation system—and to get mass transportation off the streets.
We must eliminate the blight in middle-aged neighborhoods and utilize vacant and under-used areas of the city for the building of new homes and apartments.
A community betterment program will also include cleaner and safer streets, extension of sewers, the expansion of street lighting and a bigger street-cleaning department, and a realistic human relations program. More recreational facilities, too, are needed in the neighborhoods, more playgrounds and parks to keep children and teenagers off the streets and out of the juvenile home.
I am fully aware of the vital importance of the Mayor’s appointing power. The status of thousands of civil service workers will be unaffected. We must have a program of continual improvement in civil service. We must have a program that will attract the best young men and women from our universities and communities into the service of the city.
There will be changes in the administrative policy-making position. And I will appoint the best men and women available, regardless of political affiliations.
It has been my philosophy all my life that good government is good politics. It is this philosophy I will follow as Mayor of Chicago. Whatever political aspect there is in the mayor’s office will be deferred while we concentrate on the immediate and urgent problems that face the city.
These are just some of the problems that must be met quickly—these problems are the first order of business.
In meeting them we can draw a lesson from Chicago inspiring history.
When Cook county was organized in 1831, Chicago—then a tiny village in the great Prairie State—became a seat of Justice. It became a town in 1833 and a city in 1837.
By that time Chicago was confident of its future. Its people saw tremendous possibilities in its location and in its natural facilities.
They had visions of Chicago as a great center of lake transportation. The State of Illinois began developing the Illinois and Michigan Canal, ands the Federal Government helped in the development of the harbor.
Then came the growth of the railroads. The vision of Chicago as the hub of the transportation network of the nation came along. These pioneers knew they were on the verge of a great expansion, and they drew strength and inspiration from their dream of a mighty Chicago. We today are in a similar position. With the development of the St. Lawrence Seaway we can become the greatest inland port of the world. We are the aviation crossroad of the continent, and we can be the world’s aviation center. We, too, can be pioneers, pioneers of a greater city of the future-Vjust as our forefathers were.
I have met too many people with a defeatist attitude toward our great city. They spoke gloomily of the great problems that would face the chief executive of the second largest city of the nation. When I listened to these people, I felt that in many ways they were strangers to the real Chicago. I mean the Chicago that is the great economic and financial giant of the midwest. I mean the Chicago made up of contributions from people of every race, religion and nationality. I mean the Chicago made up of fine neighborhoods. I mean the Chicago made up of splendid churches and temples of every faith. I mean Chicago—the medical center of the world—with the finest hospitals in the nation. I mean Chicago with its great universities. I mean the Chicago that has maintained the Art Institute—the Museum of Natural History—Libraries—and other cultural institutions which are among the foremost in the land. I mean the Chicago that is a city of parks and beaches. I mean the railroad center of the nation and the air center and truck center of the continent. I mean Chicago—the hog butcher of the world—the city of broad shoulders. I mean Chicago that is destined to have the largest inland port in the world. I mean Chicago, with an unlimited potential, to be the magnificent city of the future.
I mean the Chicago of “I WILL.” This is the real Chicago. This is the reputation by which Chicago should be known to the people of the Nation and the World. As Mayor I feel that one of my greatest responsibilities is to present a true picture of our great city—and to erase the unreal notion that many people have of Chicago and its people. The Mayor’s office is no ivory tower. Its problems cannot be solved with a slide rule. There are no miracles—there are no bargains in government as in anything else. But if work, and sincerity, and the highest dedication to the city and its people can bring programs into reality— If effort, intelligent approach and courage can solve problems— If humility, patience, and vision can surmount obstacles—then Chicago will go forward.
To this end I will dedicate myself—to a sincere, honest and vigorous administration, to maintain the fabric of civil life in Chicago and lay a concrete foundation for a renewal of faith in our City’s dignity and future. With your cooperation and with cooperation of the people of Chicago, and with God’s help, we shall not fail.
- Chicago City Council. Journal of the Proceedings, April 20, 1955, p. 5–8.