Mayor Richard J. Daley Inaugural Address, 1959

Richard J. Daley Biography

Inauguration date: April 21, 1959

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

Four years ago in my inaugural address, I set forth the objectives, the policies, the goals of this administration. I said then, and repeat now, that I ask nothing more of the people of Chicago than to judge me by my actions and accomplishments in the next four years as chief executive of this great city. Tonight I find it difficult to express to the people my mingled feelings of pride and humility, of challenge and confidence. All of my life has been lived in one neighborhood of Chicago, a neighborhood of which I am very proud. My pride in this community of my birth is the pride that all Chicagoans feel for the communities in which they live.

To my mother and father, to my good wife, to my teachers and to my good neighbors and friends, I am indebted far more than I can ever repay. For me there could be no greater reward than the vote of confidence expressed by the people at the polls. We recognize this vote as approval of the policies of this administration.

We humbly accept this vote as a testimony of confidence and faith in our city … in the great future of Chicago … and to the realization of that future we re-dedicate ourselves tonight.

Four years ago I said: “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.”

Much has been done to improve the fundamental housekeeping services of the city, such as police, fire, health, sanitation, water, sewage, building, and recreation.

However, we cannot be content with the progress we have made, we must continually strive to improve, to make more efficient and economical, these services which are vital to the welfare and well-being of all our people.

We have done much to improve the police department by adding more than 2,000 men, initiating the task force, doubling the number of 3-wheel motorcycles, improving our communications system, and reducing the work hours.

We have a fine police department, but we cannot be content until we have the best. We must, and will, insist upon higher and higher standards, and those in the supervisory ranks must exert a leadership based on respect and integrity.

Our fire department is among the finest in the nation. Every company has been brought up to full strength. We have added 400 men, and provided new apparatus and a communications system considered the best in the nation. The emphasis has been and will continue to be on fire prevention. Not only will schools and public buildings be subject to continuous inspection, but the greatly expanded fire prevention bureau will be even more active in every neighborhood.

We appreciate that some time is needed for the installation of sprinklers in schools, as required by the new ordinance, but every effort must be made to protect our children from a repetition of the December 1st school tragedy. The people of Chicago expect these sprinklers to be installed in all ordinary constructed schools and other public institutions as rapidly as possible. Surely we hope the older schools in Chicago would be so protected by sprinklers by the beginning of the school semester.

Chicago’s outstanding position as one of the healthiest cities in the nation has been maintained. The health department has further increased its services with expanded dental and mental hygiene and a nutrition service to help institutions caring for the aged.

A pilot district health center, to bring the services of the health department directly to the community, has been established on the near west side. More of these district health centers will be located in other sections of the city.

In our program to expand and improve these vital housekeeping services the highest priority has been given to maximum economy and efficiency of operation.

Our adoption and application of the executive performance budget has received the praise of civic organizations throughout the nation and is being used as a model by other cities. It is one of Government’s greatest responsibilities to keep the public informed on how the public money is being expended.

The budget which we adopted gives detailed information, not only of every expenditure, but describes actual performance. It gives everyone an opportunity to analyze the city’s budget and to determine the efficiency of operation. It is but one of the important recommendations of the Home Rule Commission which have been put into practice.

We must continue to streamline our city government, cut through red tape, and speed up the time between the announcement of work to be done and the beginning of actual operation.

The adoption of the modern employee classification and compensation plan will provide more economical personnel services for the city and assure equitable salaries for city employees. It will promote greater efficiency, simplify budgeting of personnel services, and encourage more qualified men and women to seek careers in city government.

We must continue to concentrate on more and better in-training programs, better supervision and personnel practices that will make the best, the most efficient and economical use of our manpower and equipment.

Above all, we will adhere strictly to the principle of a day’s work for a day’s pay.

The fiscal position of the city has been constantly improved. The city’s bank balances are earning the maximum returns through the policy of investing all possible current funds and promptly placing all bond funds in government securities until they are needed. In 1958, the city earned $3,200,000 on such short-term investments.

Although we have one of the most far-flung public works programs in the nations, we have the second lowest bond debt per capita of all cities of over 500,000 population.

Our program to serve all the people of Chicago could not be fulfilled unless we expanded those services and activities that meet the personal and human problems dealing with the welfare of the people.

The Commission on Human Relations continues to make genuine contributions in dealing with the most difficult problems in racial relations by creating an atmosphere of understanding among our people. They have expanded their activities with a newcomers’ program, to help the thousands of new workers and their families who come to Chicago each year.

The Commission has established a west side center for Spanish-speaking people. Centers to handle in-migrants, staffed by expert volunteer workers, similar to the one on the west side today, will be put into operation on the north and south sides.

The Commission on Senior Citizens, composed of men and women who are expert in this field, is initiating a program of aiding and co-ordinating the work of existing agencies and helping to expand their activities.

The facilities for patients at the Chicago Alcoholic Treatment Center are being doubled. This is the first medical and psychiatric clinic in the nation for the rehabilitation of alcoholics that is completely supported by a municipality.

We have placed special emphasis on expanding and improving the police department’s youth division. The Chicago Youth Bureau has been completely reorganized and expanded. The City of Chicago today has substantially more personnel assigned to prevent crime among our youth than the average city. With the formation of the Commission on Youth Welfare this year, we are launching the most comprehensive far-flung youth program in the nation.

The Commission will be an agency which will work actively in cooperating and coordinating the programs of the many youth-serving organizations in the city. The home, church, school and community agencies, have each a vital role in the program for youth welfare. It is the leadership that comes from these community forces that can best guide our young people.

The Commission will carry on a program in every neighborhood designed to bring the fullest citizen participation. The entire program is aimed at working with young people before they get into trouble.

No subject has received as much attention in Chicago and in metropolitan areas throughout the nation as urban renewal, and rightly so. There are no isolated communities in the city. Blight is not a threat to just one area. It is a threat to all our neighborhoods. All of us, wherever we live, have a stake in the renewal and in the conservation of the city.

Although the language of urban renewal speaks of projects, of developments, of planning and capital improvements, of site selection, land acquisition, legislation and financing, we must never forget that the most important work is “people”. The purpose of urban renewal is to serve people better. As we look ahead, how well prepared are we for traveling the long road to re-building, conserving, renewing our city?

Underlying any program toward this goal are the housekeeping services, and the improvements we have made in police, fire, health, sanitation, schools, recreation, and other vital services can give us confidence for greater progress in the future. Also fundamental to this goal is the establishment of standards designed to give equal protection to all our communities.

In the past four years, the City Council has passed a modern housing code, zoning ordinance, and air pollution ordinance. In addition, codes regulating elevators, parking facilities, and nursing homes have been enacted.

The building and law departments instituted new procedures to make these codes effective, and to secure more complete observance of the laws concerning the health and safety of our people.

Task force teams made up of building, health, fire and law department personnel, inspected hundreds of buildings which were in violation of the laws. This new technique, which is now being followed by other cities, has forced property owners to comply with standards, and is doing much to take the profit out of slum operations.

As a result of this program, thousands of buildings are being rehabilitated by property owners who realize the city’s determination to enforce proper and safe living standards for all. The city has obtained court orders vacating buildings that are hazardous and dangerous.

One measure of the magnitude of this program may be judged by the fact that in 1954 only $100,000 was provided in the budget for the demolition of hazardous buildings, while in 1959 the appropriation for this purpose is $500,000—five times as great.

The city has and will intensify its enforcement program against property owners who are unwilling to bring their property up to adequate standards.

A special unit of the building, sanitation, and health departments was created in 1956 to eliminate unsightly shacks and clean littered lots in every neighborhood.

Throughout the city, men and women have participated in many different activities of the Cleanup Committee. Some have joined with their neighbors in block projects to improve their yards, lawns and alleys. Hundreds of women have gone from door to door in homes, businesses, and factories, to ask cooperation in keeping sidewalks and alleys clean.

Nothing has done so much to renew the vitality and appearance of the neighborhoods. The city will continue to give to Clean-up and Sanitation its day by day high priority.

In no area of activity has there been greater improvement than in the services rendered by the Department of Streets and Sanitation.

Street cleaning, street paving, street lighting, refuse removal and disposal, are among the most vital, and most costly, services rendered by local government.

All main thoroughfares in the city are cleaned at least once weekly, as against once a month in 1954, and every residential street is cleaned once a month, many of which had not previously been cleaned in years.

With the further expansion and improvement of the Department of Streets and Sanitation, and with the continued help of all the fine citizens who have enlisted in this campaign, we will achieve our goal of making Chicago the cleanest big city in the nation.

For many years our programs for public works lagged behind our needs, and those capital improvements which had been financed by bond issues were often far behind the time-tables for their completion.

It is the policy of our administration to expedite and expand our public works construction program. In every case, we have endeavored to put our bond funds to work for us as rapidly as possible. The quicker these works are built, the greater are the benefits to the public.

Last year was the greatest construction year in Chicago’s history. We shall continue to use every means possible, including double and triple shifts, to bring our comprehensive public works program to completion as rapidly as possible.

The Congress Street Expressway, the extension of Hollywood Boulevard, the Calumet Skyway, the utilization of mass transportation in Congress Street, are examples of benefits given to the public as quickly as they could be. In every section of our city, new bridges have been constructed, streets have been paved, channelized, widened and lighted. We now have the finest public parking facilities in the nation. We have doubled the pace of sewer and water-main construction.

These improvements, and many more that are visible everywhere, are the forerunners of what is to come. By 1960, the Northwest Expressway will be completed. The South Route will follow, and we will construct the equally important Southwest Route.

Work has been started on a new bridge over the Chicago River at Harrison Street; contracts have been let for constructing the Dearborn Street bridge; work on the Fullerton Avenue bridge will begin this summer; construction on the Damen Avenue viaduct began a few weeks ago.

A new medical building is being constructed at the House of Correction; two police stations and two fire stations are under construction and work on the new fire academy is to start soon.

Navy Pier is being readied for the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway this summer. Two new deep-draft berths have been constructed to accommodate ocean-going vessels.

Traffic that today congests busy intersections will be carried on new overpasses throughout the city. The hazardous tracks now at grade level at Lake Street are being elevated to the Northwestern Railroad.

There is no longer any doubt of the essential need for adequate extension of mass transportation facilities. The C.T.A. is doing a good job, but its financial limitations are such that it must have assistance to expand its capital improvement program to better serve the metropolitan area. Such financial assistance would be used only for expansion of facilities, and not for the cost of operation.

Chicago is now one of the best lighted cities in the nation, and in 1960 every street in Chicago will be made brighter and safer with modern lighting.

Pure, filtered water will be supplied to the millions of people on the north and central sections of our city by the largest and most modern water purification plant in the world.

Eight city water pumping stations are being modernized, and this year we will break ground for the new southwest pumping station at 84th Street and Keeler Avenue to serve that section of the city. The result of this vast water utility construction program will be to increase our tunnel capacity by one-third, and our filtration capacity fourfold.

Four new beach sites on the North Shore have been cleared and improved, and we will acquire two more beaches soon.

Work is under way on many recreational facilities. For example, twenty-one basketball courts are being built, fifteen playgrounds are being provided with flood-lights, three new playgrounds and six new play lots are under construction. Construction is under way for five new swimming pools.

These physical improvements in the neighborhoods and communities are an integral part of our conservation program.

Today, programs which have been sought for many years are becoming realities.

For more than fifty years there have been plans proposed to consolidate the new south side railroad terminals. The rail trackage entering into the loop has long been a bottleneck to the development of our south side. Through the cooperation of the railroads we have made great progress toward that goal.

Tomorrow, we will meet with the presidents of the railroads, and I am hopeful that the recommendations of the Railroad Terminal Authority Plan will be approved. This would pave the way for the location of the University of Illinois at a site which will be beneficial to the greatest number of our young people.

Nearby, of course, will be the great new lakefront Convention Hall. This is another dream that has been brought to reality. The building will be completed next year. And, just as these long-sought objectives are becoming realities, so will the Central Area Plan providing a much-needed courthouse, government and civic center, and transportation center, become a reality.

The five-year capital improvement plan provides for an expenditure of $600-million dollars in expressways, street lighting, traffic signals, rivers and harbors, waterworks, sewers, incinerators, police and fire department buildings, and public libraries in every neighborhood and community. Most of the funds for these projects will come from motor fuel taxes, federal highway program, and the sale of bonds already approved by the taxpayers.

As Mayor, having the responsibility of the appointment of school board members, I have been greatly pleased at the progress the Chicago Board of Education has made to meet the growing demands which population growth has put upon our public school system.

The people of Chicago have demonstrated their whole-hearted support of any measure that would make our schools better. Since 1951, they have approved bond issues totaling $200-million dollars for construction.

I think it is apparent that not only are our immediate needs being met, but we are also building for the future.

The people of Chicago have also supported wholeheartedly the finest park system in the world. Since 1950, alone, thirty-six new parks, ranging from twelve to thirty-five acres, have been completed.

As a result of the consolidation of city and park district functions, our wonderful system of parks, playgrounds, beaches and other recreational facilities will be administered by one agency. This will eliminate overlapping of duties.

The maintenance and operation of park district streets and boulevards transferred to the city will also reduce duplication and increase efficiency and economy. This was another of the long-delayed civic improvement proposals that has been effectuated.

The programs and activities that I have referred to are all requisites of a successful urban renewal program. Without them, there could be no genuine community conservation, slum clearance, or incentive for new housing.

I can well understand the impatience of some people with regard to community conservation programs. All of us urgently desire to see our neighborhoods and communities rebuilt and revitalized.

The problems we face did not have their beginnings in this decade, nor in this century, and the same problems are being faced by every major city in the nation.

With our central geographical location, our dynamic economy and tremendous resources, Chicago has been and continues to be a magnet for people of every race, creed, and color, from every section of our land and of the nations of the world.

We must take action and make plans to meet physical conditions and human problems that few other cities have to face. No city alone has the financial resources to rebuild and conserve its central areas, its neighborhoods and communities. It is the metropolitan areas that are the centers of population, and it is the people of these areas which primarily support our national economy.

Our society is becoming more and more urban, and the Federal government has responsibility to help. To achieve the renewal of cities, the Federal government must give assistance to the extent of hundreds of millions of dollars, in a continuous program, extending over many years.

I have appeared frequently in Washington with the Mayors of many other cities in support of this essential program. The enactment of bills now pending before the Congress would be a big step in the right direction.

The community conservation process is slow primarily because it is a democratic approach. An urban renewal program, because of its great importance, its use of tremendous sums of money, must involve a variety of administrative procedures, a variety of checks and balances, opportunities for all kinds of review by planning experts, and most important, review by the people who will be affected, and by the City Council.

All of us can be proud that Chicago has been a pioneer in the field of urban renewal. No city in the nation has an urban renewal program more advanced than ours. All Chicago is familiar with the Hyde Park-Kenwood urban renewal plan.

Nine other communities have been officially designated as conservation areas, while the citizens of nineteen other communities are all working together with programs to renew and revitalize their neighborhoods.

In the coming four years, as we have in the past, we will devote ourselves to the community conservation programs. We shall strive to streamline procedures, cut red tape, reduce overlapping by consolidating agencies and functions wherever possible, and employ the best talent in the field.

Here, in Chicago, where the concept of citizen participation began, and, I might add, was given every encouragement by the city, we have thousands of people working actively in their communities on conservation programs. There can be no better measure of our progress, and the participation of people in community conservation will continue to play an essential role in all the renewal programs of our city.

One of the greatest needs of our city is housing—private housing—to meet the needs of every income group. It is an extremely difficult program. For several years new construction did not even replace those buildings which had become too old and deteriorated to provide decent living conditions and those which were destroyed by fire. In recent months I have had many discussions with builders and developers.

The progress we have made in every area of local government and urban renewal has brought a new confidence in the future of our city. I am hopeful that thousands of new housing units will be made available at rents that people can afford.

I said a moment ago that we can all be proud of our pioneering in the area of urban renewal. Chicago has always been a pioneer-and we are still pioneering. It is particularly fitting that we are setting the pace in transportation because our leadership in transportation built Chicago.

The development of our great international airport as the most modern and best-equipped facility of its kind in the world is now a certainty. We are no longer looking forward to the jet age-we are in it-and we are prepared for it. Jet passenger planes are now using the airport, and each month we will see more of them.

We are the railroad center, the air cross-roads, the trucking terminal, the highway hub of the nation. And, in just a few weeks, Chicago will begin its great adventure as the Number One inland port of the country.

Before the close of the month, the first of the larger ocean-going ships that will traverse the new St. Lawrence Seaway will arrive at the port of Chicago. This ship will carry one of the flags of the many new world-shipping lines to dock at the port of Chicago this year.

This summer, the eyes of the world will be focused on Chicago-with the Pan American Games, the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway, the International Trade Fair, and the visit of Queen Elizabeth.

Chicago has been acclaimed as the nation’s most exciting city, and we intend to keep it that way!

All the progress we have made, the bright future that lies ahead, have been made possible by the cooperation of all the people, people of every walk of life, of all political parties.

It is no news that I am a Democrat. I am proud to be a leader of the Democratic party. I am grateful for the loyal support I have from the members of our party, and I am equally appreciative of the support that was given me by Republicans and Independent voters.

As I said four years ago, and repeat tonight, as Mayor, my employer is all the people-Democrats, Republicans and Independents, of very economic group, of every neighborhood and community.

I wish to express also my thanks for the help and understanding that was given to me by the metropolitan community press, by radio and television stations.

The improvements we have made in city government could not have been possible without the hard work, the cooperation, and the dedication of the members of the City Council, the Department Heads, the city employees, industry and labor, and the thousands of citizens who so willingly have given a helping hand.

Our form of government is based on the premise that men of good will may frequently disagree about the prudence of an action, about the desirability of an ordinance. This is why we have a City Council, in order that, through debate and discussion, the wisest course may be selected.

Certainly the members of this City Council will never hesitate to ask questions, to engage in debate, to approach controversy, so that the will of the people will be carried out. I would not have it any other way.

Whatever our differences may be, we are joined in one common goal-to make Chicago the greatest city in the world. We are joined in our love for Chicago.

Every city, but especially Chicago, brings together in sharp contrast the mainsprings of our democratic civilization-churches and temples of every faith, the highest institutions of learning, the finest in culture and art, the contributions of every race, creed, color and nationality.

It is the home of individuality, of differences, and yet, there is a cooperation and a unity that binds it together.

Chicago has a freedom, and a spirit, and a heart. The source of Chicago’s vitality is its people, its strength is that we have all the advantages of community life plus the tremendous resources of a great city. Designing a dream city is easy, rebuilding a living one takes working with people.

The great Chicagoan, Daniel Burnham, set the goal for all who would follow him:

Make no little plans, they have no magic to stir men’s blood and probably themselves will not be realized. Make big plans, aim high in hope and work, let your watchword be ’order’ and your beacon ’beauty’.

Burnham loved his city, he symbolized the spirit of Chicago. He gave voice to that spirit in these words:

It is even now impelling us to larger and better achievements for the public good. It conceals no private purpose, no hidden ends. This spirit—the spirit of Chicago—is our greatest asset. It is not merely civic pride, it is rather the constant, steady determination to bring about the very best conditions of city life for all of the people, with full knowledge that what we as a people decide to do in the public interest, we can and surely will bring to pass.”

With your cooperation and with the cooperation of all the people of Chicago, and with God’s help, we shall not and will not fail.


  • Chicago City Council. Journal of the Proceedings, April 21, 1959, p. 4–9.
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