Inauguration date: April 18, 1975
This speech is recorded as it first appeared in print. Archaic spelling and misspellings in the original document have not been corrected.
I speak today to the people of Chicago with mingled feelings of humility and pride and with a renewed sense of confidence to meet the challenges that lie ahead. Since my first inauguration as Mayor of Chicago, I have asked nothing more of my fellow citizens than to be judged by my performance as chief executive of this great city.
There could be no greater reward for me than the vote of confidence given the policies of our administration in the election of April 1st. For myself, for my good wife and for the members of my family, I want to take this opportunity to express my gratitude to all the people who voted for me to those of my party and to the many others of every political belief who worked so long and so hard to bring the issues to the voters. I know that City Clerk John Marcin, and City Treasurer Joe Bertrand are equally appreciative.
To me this was more than an election victory. I have always run as a Democratic party candidate. I am proud to be a Democrat. I believe in the party system. As Mayor, however, I have sought to serve all the people of Chicago—Democrats, Independents, Republicans—of every economic group, of every neighborhood.
The result of the election was an expression by the voters that they had confidence in my single desire to serve the public interest. Today I renew my pledge to the people of Chicago, my best efforts and dedication to this principle.
Today, you who have been elected to the City Council, and I as Mayor, begin the task of carrying out the mandate given us by our fellow citizens. I know that you are as pleased as I am that we will serve during the commemoration of our nation’s Bicentennial.
We will begin carrying out our responsibilities in a nationwide atmosphere of doubt and uncertainty, caused by inflation, recession, unemployment, rising crime, the problems of cities, Watergate and what appears to be a loss of leadership and prestige in the conduct of world affairs underlined by the tragedy of Indo-China.
It is no wonder that there has been a grave mistrust and disillusionment with government and a feeling of pessimism and frustration as to the future.
I have never shared that pessimism, and the historical events which give life and meaning to the Bicentennial celebration bolsters my confidence in the future of this nation and this city.
Of course, we are a vastly different nation than the agricultural country of 1776 occupying a narrow band of the Atlantic coast. But the resourcefulness and courage of the Founding Fathers in facing problems of a changing world that seem to defy solution, their determination to bring to an end to despotism and to make a better society, planted roots that have never dried up in America.
I am fully aware of the economic pressures and self-interests that underlie the Revolution and will continue to motivate men and nations. But these two centuries of American history can be described as 200 years of rising aspirations in pursuit of the democratic ideal: to live harmoniously in the midst of diversity-to guarantee liberty-foster toleration-and provide equal opportunity in a society governed by law and held together by social unity. In those 200 years our country has met and overcome crisis after crisis and maintained our democratic republic. In two centuries we have become the greatest of nations with an enormous diversity, population, wealth and power, with a standard of living unchallenged throughout the history of the world.
Like the Colonists, we face a world of great change-political, economic and social. The demand of rising aspirations for opportunity and a better society are still inherent in our American society.
For much of our history this demand has been met by the utilization of a vast frontier. That frontier was not only the forest, the farm and the unlimited land of America—it was the opportunity provided by the cities of our nation.
Historically, the city has been the catalyst of social innovation and progress. The city has been the place where the newcomer was welcomed and where he found opportunity for himself and his family.
The role of the central city today is unchanged. As society becomes more urban, there will be a continuing migration to the central city for those who seek employment and opportunity. It will continue to be the primary place of employment for those who live outside of the city. The central city is still the innovator for the social inventions so urgently needed to solve the problems caused by the far-reaching economic, political and social changes.
The central city is the new frontier of urban society.
There are some who say that the central city has failed to fulfill the goals of rising aspirations envisioned by President Kennedy’s New Frontier and President Johnson’s Great Society.
Their aspirations were based on an affluent economy—and the progress and breakthroughs that had occurred in the fields of science, technology and communications. Advances which in the past 25 years had been more rapid and far-reaching than in the past 100 years.
They assumed, as we all did, that as science and technology improved our material and physical world, they would make an equal contribution to the betterment of our social world and environment.
But there has been a critical imbalance between physical and social progress.
It is far easier to mobilize the resources of science and technology, to put a man on the moon and to transplant the heart, than to clear a slum, preserve a neighborhood, give every child quality education, erase discrimination and preserve full employment.
These social endeavors cannot be controlled in a laboratory. They call for a mobilization of human commitments—for people communication—for social values that cannot be stored and reproduced in a computer.
And in these same 25 years we saws a Federal policy that encouraged a flight to the suburbs by people and industry.
Suburbs that could not replace the leadership of the central city in responding to the essential needs of an urban society.
It is the central city that did respond. In Chicago we launched and carried out hundreds of programs, many of them new and untried, to make the city and our society a better place in which to live.
Urban Renewal, Code enforcement, Public Housing, expanded and improved Medical Care, neighborhood Health Centers, Mental Health Clinics. Human Relations Commission, a professional Police Force, the Poverty Program, Job Training, Public Service Employment, Model Cities, the prevention of air and water pollution, consumer protection, modern building codes, summer recreation programs, incineration, improved mass transportation, filtration plant, the lakefront Ordinance, economic development, better lighting, cleaner streets, services for Senior Citizens, hosing for the elderly, fair employment standards, modern public works, expressways and airports, new schools, libraries, parks and playgrounds, new colleges, the Circle Campus and a host of other programs and projects designed to serve people, the neighborhoods, the City and the Metropolitan area.
I would be the last to say that these programs solved the accumulated ills of the city or were able to meet the rising aspirations and expectations of many of our people. But without them—and without the support of the people of Chicago—there would be no viable central city and there would be no thriving, healthy suburbia.
There are no isolated communities. Those who thought city limits were walls or real barriers to economic and social problems have discovered that they are deluding themselves. In this urbanized society, we all live as a part of a total economic and social entity, regardless of geographical boundaries and political representation.
The problems of welfare, health, crime, education, housing, employment, environmental control and transportation are not only the problems of the city, but affect every citizen, no matter where he lives. Their solution requires national resources and the commitment of the entire metropolitan area. There are many reasons for the lack of greater progress in the cities. The amount of Federal money appropriated for urban programs, in many instances was nearly always too little, and often too late.
The Viet Nam war not only diverted funds from these programs, but created a wave of destructive dissent that was not concerned with real and feasible solutions, but focused on goals which were unattainable and without public support. Encouraged by news makers, these activities produced nothing but confusion, confrontation and diversion.
Under the Nixon administration funds were frozen by a policy of executive impoundment that defied the intent of Congress and reversed the gains that were being made in programs of housing, employment and environmental control.
The cities were also confronted with a Federal bureaucracy that sought to administer local affairs by national regulations and detailed guidelines. They only hampered and frustrated those that were responsible for the administration of local government and who were in direct touch with the needs of people and their communities.
I am optimistic about the future because I believe that past experience has made us a wiser people.
We will no longer commit ourselves to a foreign policy that believes that we can buy the will for democracy and international harmony. We will no longer sacrifice Americans in futile wars. However, we will continue our leadership role for peace in the world.
We will give first priority to our domestic needs. There is no greater contribution to be made to the world than the example of American democracy making a better society for all its citizens.
I believe that there is a national consensus that the problems of the city are national problems. There will be a full commitment to help cities provide essential services which can best be administered by local government directly responsive to its citizens.
I am sure you all feel, as I do, that much more is expected of us than just the continuation of programs now under way. I know that you will be submitting proposals for consideration by the Council. In doing so, we must be careful not to present goals as programs. For example, there is universal agreement that we must eliminate slums, rehabilitate housing and provide incentive for the construction of new homes. But the repetition of these objectives as specific programs, contributes little and creates expectations which are impossible to fulfill.
This kind of approach over-simplifies complex and difficult undertakings which require huge sums of money, Federal participation and careful planning.
A comprehensive housing program is not just a matter of constructing buildings. When people say they want good housing they mean they want several things, including Police protection, the ability to walk the streets without fear, decent behavior patterns by their neighbors so that they are not threatened by crime and vandalism or poor property maintenance, good schools, recreational facilities, shopping centers, transportation, adequate public services and rent and mortgages they can afford.
Above all, there must be a consensus—a commitment not only by government—but by people—by the neighborhoods affected. The Police alone cannot reduce crime and make the streets safer. They must have the active cooperation of the public.
To gain the support of the public, there must not only be widespread community participation, but the programs must be realistic. Otherwise, we create false hopes that end in disillusionment. Because we cannot arrive at achieving goals is no reason not to do the best we can to move toward them. That is really what progress is all about.
Being realistic means that the public understands that there are few programs that can satisfy every individual, every interest. We must do the best we can within our power. The news media can be a positive force in this direction by accurately presenting information and all of the views-not just highlighting those whose voices are loudest-but the voice of the community.
In the weeks ahead I will submit for your consideration, detailed recommendations concerning the Police Department and safer streets, housing, greater employers program, community development, education, recreation, employment, senior citizens and other programs of high priority.
Above all, the public is looking for leadership which is willing to address itself realistically, courageously and conscientiously to the work of making our communities better places in which to live. They will respond to that leadership, to that end, all of, I know, will work together. This is our mandate.
The improvements we have made in the City of Chicago 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, labor, the Clergy and the thousands of citizens who so willingly have given a helping hand.
To sum up, I think the goals of most of us in public service were stated by our late President John F. Kennedy when he said, “I believe in an America where every family can live in a decent home, in a decent neighborhood, where children play in parks and playgrounds, not the streets of slums; where no home is unsafe or unsanitary, where a good doctor and a good hospital are neither to far way or too expensive and where the water is clean and the air is pure and the streets are safe at night.
- Chicago City Council. Journal of the Proceedings, April 18, 1975, p. 5–7.