Inauguration date: May 1, 1995
This speech is recorded as it first appeared in print. Archaic spelling and misspellings in the original document have not been corrected.
I want to recognize my mother and my family; Governor Edgar, City Treasurer Santos, City Clerk Laski, members of the City Council and guests:
I want to begin by noting the recent tragedy in Oklahoma—which reminds us all how fragile are the bonds of society. That unspeakable act of hatred underscores the importance of mutual understanding among people—regardless of race, religion or ethnic origin. And on behalf of all Chicago, I’d like to start with a moment of silence for the victims in the Oklahoma City tragedy. Today, we open another chapter in Chicago. And while it is the start of a new chapter in our city’s history, it’s part of an ongoing story, filled with many challenges and achievements.
It’s a story of change—as new problems confront us and new ideas define us. It’s a story of triumph over adversity—from the Chicago Fire to the underground flood. It’s a story of progress—from a tiny trading post founded two centuries ago by DuSable—to an international center of commerce and transportation today. Above all, it’s a story of people who never quit—who never give up—no matter what the odds. Chicago’s strength is its people. And Chicago’s spirit knows no bounds and accepts no limits in the ongoing campaign to maintain and enhance our economic vitality and our quality of life.
We know that it’s not enough to put more police on the street. It’s not enough to hold the line on taxes. An it’s not enough to bring new jobs to distressed communities. There’s always more to be done—another child to be saved, a problem to be solved, or a family to be housed. I am proud of how far we’ve come in cutting bureaucracy, energizing city employees to do more with less, and shrinking government while expanding services. I am proud of the fact that we’ve struck a balance between neighborhood investment and downtown development. Today, Chicago’s downtown is thriving while our neighborhoods are undergoing the most extensive reinvestment in history.
I am most proud of the fact that the people of Chicago have moved forward by working together, replacing the politics of division with a common agenda. All Chicago—including elected officials, as well as church and community leaders in every neighborhood—deserves praise for bringing about a quieter and more productive tone to politics and government in Chicago. I want to thank the members of the City Council—their families and their communities—for their time and their dedication. As we prepare to meet the challenges ahead, let us remember that with peace has come progress. And let us rededicate ourselves to putting people first and politics last—both in the city and the state.
As Mayor of Chicago, I will always stand up when the interests of our city are threatened. But I’m more interested in sitting down together and working out our differences—wherever and whenever we can. And let me be clear to the Governor and the legislative leaders who honor us with their presence today. I stand ready to work with you to solve the many challenges and problems which demand our cooperation.
From Charleston to Chatham to Chicago Heights, from Dearborn Park to DuPage County—and throughout Illinois—people are concerned about education, about crime, about jobs and economic development. And they want us to work together to confront these difficult issues. So let us proceed form this day on in a spirit of mutual respect, knowing that we won’t always agree—but also understand that constructive dialogue is always better than bitter confrontation for the sake of politics. The fact is, Chicago has a stake in the future of every community in Illinois, just as every community in Illinois has a stake in Chicago’s future. We have much in common.
Let us start by developing a long-term plan for education funding that includes property tax relief and greater equity throughout Illinois. Let us work together to stop gangs, guns and drugs from flooding our streets—as we did in passing a crime bill last year. Instead of competing with each other for the jobs that are already here, let us work together to bring new jobs to the whole region, built on our strength as an international center of transportation. With half a million people commuting into Chicago each day for work—and a quarter million Chicagoans commuting the other way—our economic future is one and the same.
Let us work together to lift the burdens of state mandates, just as we did at the federal level. In four years, we’ve replaced a Republican President with a Democratic President, while control of Congress has gone the other way. In this unpredictable political environment, it’s more important than ever that we hold fast to our common purpose—which is helping people. Let us develop an agenda that serves us all equally well—rather than playing to the politics of the moment. On the issues that truly matter to people, there is no room for partisanship.
In this time of fewer resources, we all must work together to do more with less, rather than fight among ourselves for smaller pieces of the pie. As Mayor, my first priority is to make sure that cuts—both at the state and federal level—don’t fall especially hard on children. My larger goal, however, is to see that federal and state programs are simpler, more flexible, more accountable—and actually make a difference in the lives of people. That’s a goal shared equally by big cities and small towns. So in the coming years, I hope to strengthen the bonds between the city and all our neighbors throughout the region.
More important, however, I want to build on what we’ve done to strengthen Chicago. Standing here, I think not of what we have accomplished over the last six years, but of what we can achieve in the next four. I begin today with a commitment to start this new term with the same energy, aspirations and enthusiasm with which I began six years ago. I vow to challenge the bureaucracy at every turn, to find new, more efficient ways to deliver services, and to cut out waste, fraud and abuse from every city agency.
In six years of hard work, we’ve only begun to build a government that is small in size but greater in performance and accountability. We’ve only begun to see the benefits of our commitment to neighborhoods, where the blight of graffiti, abandoned buildings and cars is being erased. We’ve only begun to see communities like the Near West Side, Austin, Lawndale, Bucktown, Englewood, Pilsen and Woodlawn and others turn the corner toward renewal. We’ve only begun the see the promise of community policing—as block-by-block—community and church groups form partnerships with police. We’ve only begun to see the potential of school reform—as more and more schools explore new ways to teach our children.
Today, I challenge all Chicago to set our sights higher. I ask each city employee to come to work tomorrow renewed and determined to find a better way to serve the people of Chicago. I ask each citizen to find some way to contribute to their communities:
- Give guidance and love to a wayward child;
- Join a Boys or Girls club;
- Give help or comfort to a lonely senior;
- Join a block club and help clean up your neighborhood;
- Become involved with your school and your park.
I ask business in Chicago to provide an extra job this summer for a teenager. I ask each agency of government to work harder to cut waste and improve services for people. I ask not-for-profits, church and community groups to do more to protect the poor, the needy and the children. And each day, I will ask more of myself, as well, for I know our work is far from done. And clearly, the leading priority for Chicago and Illinois in the next four years—is education.
As I’ve said before—a teenager who drops out after ten years in the public school system—with only a fourth-grade reading level—will likely end up on state public aid or in a state prison; And we will have failed. For the sake of our children, we must improve the quality of our schools through greater flexibility and accountability. We must change the way the system is managed so the money is not restricted by categories. We must give every principal and Local School Council the freedom to spend more dollars in the classroom and less on state mandates—which take money away from children. As we work together to improve schools, clearly there will still be areas of disagreement. The funding debate is far from over. But we should never let our differences overwhelm the opportunities for making progress in improving performance through greater accountability. And if the legislature adopts the plan to restructure the Board of Education and expand the authority of my office, I will accept this challenge—as I have accepted every other—with a deep and personal commitment to succeed.
I have no illusions about what is involved. The financial needs are real. The bureaucracy is entrenched, and the problems are daunting. The dropout rate and level of student achievement is unacceptable. But to shrink from this challenge is to write off the future of our children and of our state. That’s a cost we cannot measure.
So let us move forward on education today with the understanding that the needs of children come first—not the adults, not the special interests and not the politicians. And as we work together to raise up the hopes and dreams of our kids, let us work equally hard to lower their fears of gangs, guns and drugs:
Every day is a new challenge—and every day demands a new response: Bold new police tactics that help us take back our streets and our children; New local laws that frustrate gang leaders, drug dealers and gun traffickers; New federal and state laws that control the flow of drugs and guns into our streets—and put violent criminals in prison; The most advanced crime-fighting technology. Our new 911 center and our district crime-mapping systems will give people more information and give police the edge in the ongoing war against crime.
Above all, it requires people to join together with police to make Chicago’s community policing program the best in the nation. And as we work to reduce crime let us also work to increase jobs and opportunity. Because, in the long run, good jobs are the best way to curb crime and provide the building blocks of strong communities. Taken together—better schools, safer streets and more jobs—offer a vision of our future in which everyone has a better chance for a better life.
Six years ago, when I first took the oath of office, I believed that big cities in America should not be abandoned. I believed in my heart that a mighty economic and transportation center like Chicago could rebuild itself into something newer, better and stronger. And today, I see a city holding tight to its manufacturing base; Expanding its role as the center of transportation in America; Aggressively competing in the world of finance; Restoring confidence and stability in its economy by working with the business community; And creating thousands of new jobs with hundreds of new companies in a broad range of industries.
At the same time, Chicago remains a city of neighborhoods with a strong sense of community among families, senior citizens and people. Just last week, I visited the Morse School on the west side. The principal, the alderman, the head of the Local School Council, the parents and the children all came out to celebrate Arbor Day and watch the Jessie White Tumbles perform. I was struck by their pride in their school—in their teachers—and in their children’s academic performance. Afterward, the principal and the members of the Local School Council sat down to a home-cooked meal prepared by the parents.
It was just one example of people coming together—to show their commitment to their children, their school and their community. Later that day I broke ground at a new exhibit at the Lincoln Park Zoo, paid for the largest donation ever given to the zoo—helping to keep it one of the last free zoos in America. It was just one more reflection of Chicago’s generous spirit and love for children.
And on Saturday, thousands of volunteers in every community in Chicago launched the annual spring clean-up—sweeping alleys, cleaning sidewalks—and doing their part to improve the quality of life on their blocks and in their neighborhoods.
I want to salute them and all the others throughout Chicago who give their time, their effort, their money and their heart to make our city better every day. Each day, as I travel throughout Chicago, I see one city and one people—drawn together from a thousand different cultures around the world; Refusing to give in to crime and drugs; Reclaiming for their children the streets where they grew up; Renewing their commitment to the city they love; And resolving to meet each challenge with greater confidence. I see so much hope and effort today.
I see so many possibilities for tomorrow—as long as we work hard and work together to achieve them. As we move forward, I want to thank you for giving me the privilege and the honor—of being the Mayor of the city I love.
- Chicago City Council. Journal of the Proceedings, May 1, 1995, p. 11–19.