Inauguration date: April 24, 1989
This speech is recorded as it first appeared in print. Archaic spelling and misspellings in the original document have not been corrected.
A few days ago, I stood on the pitcher’s mound at Comiskey Park and threw out the ceremonial first pitch of the new baseball season. For this lifelong Chicagoan, it was a boyhood dream come true. Today, I’m honored again to throw out a first pitch—the first pitch of [a] promising new season for Chicago.
I begin this season filled with hope for the future, and dreams of victories we can win with a new spirit of teamwork and cooperation. And as we enter this new season, it’s time to leave behind old setbacks, disappointments and battles. Because in the campaign for a better Chicago, we’re all allies.
Our common opponents are crime and ignorance, waste and fraud, poverty and disease, hatred and discrimination. And we either rise up as one city and make the special effort required to meet these challenges, or sit back and watch Chicago decline. As one who loves Chicago, I’m ready to make that special effort—and to ask everyone in our city to do the same. Business as usual is a prescription for failure. The old ways of doing things simply aren’t adequate to cope with the new challenges we face. In times of limited resources, government must be more creative and productive than ever before. We must do a better job with the resources we have. I’ve assembled a group of talented managers, some new, some who already were serving in government. These men and women represent every community and reflect Chicago’s great diversity. But they were hired because they share one important quality: They are among the best at what they do.
My charge to them is to take a fresh look at city government. Let’s find out how we can do things better; how we can deliver basic services more efficiently and fairly while attacking the larger problems we face. I’ll ask more of the tens of thousands of public; servants who work for the city. But government can’t do the job alone. Throughout my public career, I’ve found that it takes a commitment by citizens to truly energize their government. I call on each and every Chicagoan to share their ideas and enthusiasm as we work together to move our city forward. And I’ll ask more of the business, labor, religious and community leaders who must assume a greater burden as we look for new and better solutions to Chicago’s roblems. And as we confront these problems, there is none more pressing than the restoration of our public school system.
Whether or not you have children, whether you’re a corporation or a private citizen, we pay a heavy price for school failure. We pay it in the loss of business and jobs. We pay it in the form of increased crime and higher taxes. And most tragically, we pay the price in so many wasted lives and so much lost potential. In too many of our schools, students are more concerned with surviving the day than succeeding in life. Many drop out of school and society. And of those who graduate, too many are ill-prepared for productive work. Good schools are the foundation upon which any city is built. Today, our foundation is crumbling, and nothing short of genuine school reform will repair it.
Soon, I’ll appoint an interim school board, and I’ll ask that board to start from scratch. I want them to challenge the justification for each and every bureaucratic job, and demand that every available dollar be put where the money is most needed—in the classrooms. I’ll soon appoint a deputy mayor for education who will work with the board and local councils to cut through the bureaucracy. The deputy mayor will coordinate the delivery of vital city services in the schools to ensure the health and safety of our children. And we will be asking the business community, which has a huge stake in the quality of public education, to accept more of the burden for turning this school system around.
In the months to come, I hope to bring new ideas and approaches—and a healthy dose of common sense—to each and every function of city government. It won’t be easy. The inertia in any large government is a powerful force. An we’re facing serious financial problems that will require some difficult steps. These challenges demand cooperation, and I hope to work productively with every member of the City Council.
They were elected, as I was, to build a better city, not to bicker over politics. The slate is clean, and I will work with anyone whose goal is to improve our city and its communities.
I’ll also bargain hard in Springfield, where they sometimes forget that a healthy Chicago is vital to the future of Illinois. Too often they send us mandates with no money, unfairly adding to our burdens. Our city’s legislators must speak with one voice when it comes to Chicago’s interests. I’ll work with every member of our delegation in Springfield to forge a united legislative agenda. I believe I can work effectively with all of our elected representatives, at every level of government, to get the job done for Chicago.
But even so, we can’t in two years solve every problem or cure every social ill. We can only begin.
And in making that new beginning, we can’t overlook the contributions of the two mayors with whom I share this term. Gene Sawyer has served this city with honor and dignity and has earned our respect and appreciation. He came to office under the most difficult of circumstances, serving in the wake of a fallen leader who changed the course of Chicago’s history.
Harold Washington was a tough act to follow. He gave a sense of belonging to many who felt disenfranchised by their own government. And whatever your politics, you had to appreciate his strength, leadership and commitment to our city. Those same words—strength, leadership and commitment—were also used to describe another mayor, who meant even more to me than he did to Chicago.
You don’t hand down policies from generation to generation. But you do hand down values. As I take the oath my father took before me, I carry with me a love for our city and a zest for public service. These were his values; the values he instilled in his children. I think of him—and the awesome job of mayor—as I speak in this hall, where the world’s greatest orchestra performs. If they played their instruments separately, without the same score, the musicians would drown each other out. They would produce nothing but a dull roar. But working together, they create beautiful symphonies.
Like an orchestra, a city is made up of many sounds, the voices of people and communities, speaking out for their concerns and their fair share. Each of these voices has a place. But if every voice is raised without regard to others, we’ll produce nothing but a dull roar. Only by working together in harmony will we move this city forward and achieve our common goals. The mayor’s job is to act as the conductor, blending the sounds so that no voice is drowned out and city policies serve the common interest of the Chicago community. Today, I’ve been handed the conductor’s baton. And to the people of Chicago, wherever you live, let me assure you that your voices will be heard.
As I undertake this new assignment, I begin with a pledge in mind. It was the pledge made by one of our greatest mayors, Carter Harrison, as he took the oath of office almost a century ago, he said: “Fully realizing the gravity of the obligations and with no desire to shirk a single responsibility, I wish to renew the pledge made the electorate of Chicago…to give the next two years of my life, my energy and my best endeavor to serve faithfully all interests of the great city that has honored me with its confidence.”
Today, as we approach a crossroads in the history of our great city, I, too, am honored with your confidence, and determined to justify it in the years to come. Thank you very much.
- Municipal Reference Collection files.