We have much to do, but we should first acknowledge how far we have come.
A generation ago, people were writing Chicago off as a dying city. They said our downtown was failing, our neighborhoods were unlivable, our schools were the worst in the nation, and our politics had become so divisive we were referred to as Beirut on the Lake.
When Richard M. Daley took office as mayor 22 years ago, he challenged all of us to lower our voices and raise our sights. Chicago is a different city today than the one Mayor Daley inherited, thanks to all he did. This magnificent place where we gather today is a living symbol of that transformation.
Back then, this was an abandoned rail yard. A generation later, what was once a nagging urban eyesore is now a world-class urban park. Through Mayor Daley's vision, determination and leadership, this place, like our city, was reborn.
We are a much greater city because of the lifetime of service that Mayor Daley and First Lady Maggie Daley have given us. Nobody ever loved Chicago more or served it better than Richard Daley. Now, Mr. Mayor, and forevermore, Chicago loves you back.
...New times demand new answers; old problems cry out for better results. This morning, we leave behind the old ways and old divisions and begin a new day for Chicago. I am proud to lead a city united in common purpose and driven by a common thirst for change.
To do that, we must face the truth. It is time to take on the challenges that threaten the very future of our city: the quality of our schools, the safety of our streets, the cost and effectiveness of city government, and the urgent need to create and keep the jobs of the future right here in Chicago.
The decisions we make in the next two or three years will determine what Chicago will look like in the next twenty or thirty.
In shaping that future, our children, and their schools, must come first.
...As some have noted, including my wife, I am not a patient man. When it comes to improving our schools, I will not be a patient mayor.
My responsibility is to provide our children with highly qualified and motivated teachers and I will work day and night to meet that obligation.
But let us be honest. For teachers to succeed, they must have parents as partners. To give our children the education they deserve, parents must get off the sidelines and get involved. The most important door to a child's education, is the front door of the home. And nothing I do at the schools can ever replace that. Working together, we will create a seamless partnership, from the classroom to the family room, to help our children learn and succeed.
We will do our part. And parents, we need you to do yours.
Second, we must make our streets safer.
Chicago has always had the build of a big city with the heart of a small town. But that heart is being broken as our children continue to be victims of violence. Some in their homes. Some on their porches. Some on their way to and from school.
During the campaign I visited a memorial in Roseland, one that lists names of children who have been killed by gun violence. This memorial is only a few years old. But with two hundred and twenty names, it has already run out of space. There are 150 more names yet to be added.
I want you to think about that. Think about what it means.
Memorials are society's most powerful tribute to its highest values -- courage, patriotism, sacrifice. What kind of society have we become when we find ourselves paying tribute not only to soldiers and police officers for doing their job, but to children who were just playing on the block? What kind of society have we become when the memorials we build are to the loss of innocence and the loss of childhood?
That memorial does more than mourn the dead. It shames the living. It should prod all of us -- every adult who failed those kids -- to step in, stand up and speak out.
We cannot look away or become numb to it. Kids belong in our schools, on our playgrounds and in our parks, not frozen in time on the side of a grim memorial.
...But here too, like with our schools, partnership is key. The police cannot do it alone. It's not enough to bemoan violence in our neighborhoods. Those who have knowledge and information that can help solve and prevent crimes have to come forward and help. Together, we can make all of our streets, in every neighborhood, safer.
Third, we must put the city of Chicago's financial house in order, because we cannot do any of these things if we squander the resources they require.
From the moment I began my campaign for mayor, I have been clear about the hard truths and tough choices we face: we simply can't afford the size of city government that we had in the past. And taxpayers deserve a more effective and efficient government than the one we have today.
Our city's financial situation is difficult and profound. We cannot ignore these problems one day longer.
It's not just a matter of doing more with less. We must look at every aspect of city government and ask the basic questions: Do we need it? Is it worth it? Can we afford it? Is there a better deal?
While we are not the first government to face these tough questions, it is my fervent hope that we become the first to solve them. The old ways no longer work. It is time for a new era of responsibility and reform.
I reject how leaders in Wisconsin and Ohio are exploiting their fiscal crisis to achieve a political goal. That course is not the right course for Chicago's future.
However, doing everything the same way we always have is not the right course for Chicago's future, either. We will do no favors to our city employees or our taxpayers if we let outdated rules and outmoded practices make important government services too costly to deliver.
I fully understand that there will be those who oppose our efforts to reform our schools, cut costs and make government more effective. Some are sure to say, “This is the way we do things -- we can't try something new” or “Those are the rules -- we can't change them.”
This is a prescription for failure that Chicago will not accept. Given the challenges we face, we need to look for better and smarter ways to meet our responsibilities. So when I ask for new policies, I guarantee, the one answer I will not tolerate is: “We've never done it that way before.”
Chicago is the city of “yes, we can” -- not “no, we can't.” From now on, when it comes to change, Chicago will not take no for an answer.
Finally, we need to make Chicago the best place in America to start a business, create good jobs, and gain the knowledge and skills to fill the jobs of tomorrow. Chicago lost 200,000 residents during the last decade. No great city can thrive by shrinking. The best way to keep people from leaving is to attract the jobs that give them a good reason to stay. The jobs of tomorrow will go to those cities that produce the workforce of tomorrow.
So, we must make sure that every student who graduates from our high schools has the foundation for a good career or the opportunity to go to college. We must pass the Illinois DREAM Act, so the children of undocumented immigrants have the chance to go to college. And we must make sure our city colleges are graduating students that businesses want to hire. If Chicago builds a skilled and knowledgeable workforce, the businesses and jobs of the future will beat a path to our city.
...Together, we can renew and strengthen our city -- community by community, neighborhood by neighborhood, business by business and block by block.
None of what we must overcome will be easy, but in my heart I know this: The challenges for the city of Chicago are no match for the character of the people of Chicago.
I believe in our city. I believe in our city because I know who we are and what we're made of -- the pride of every ethnic, religious, and economic background, and nearly three million strong.
Almost 140 years ago, a great fire devastated Chicago. Some thought we would never recover. An entire city had to be rebuilt from the ground up -- and it was. That is how we earned the title of the Second City.
Less than 100 years later, portions of our city burned once again. They were ignited by the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the injustices he fought to overcome.
Chicago still bears some of the scars from that time. And while, there is still work to do, we have made substantial progress.
Look at the three of us being sworn in today. Treasurer Stephanie Neely and Clerk Susana Mendoza. Both are superb public servants who represent the best of our city. They are among a new generation of smart and capable civic leaders.
I think it is fair to say, we are not our parents' Chicago.
An African-American whose family came from Grenada, Mississippi in the great migration north; a daughter of immigrants who came from Mexico; a son of an Israeli immigrant from Tel Aviv and grandson of immigrants from Eastern Europe. Our parents and grandparents came not just to any American city. They came to America's city. They came to Chicago.
The three of us have achieved something our parents never imagined in their lifetimes. And while our three families traveled different paths, they came to the same united city for a simple reason - because this is the city where dreams are made.
Over the next four years, we have schools to fix.
Over the next four years, we have streets to make safe.
Over the next four years, we have a government to transform and businesses and jobs to attract.
But above all, let's never forget the dream. The dream that has made generation after generation of Chicagoans come here and stay here.
...For the next generation of Chicagoans, let us roll up our sleeves and take on the hard work of securing Chicago's future.
Our problems are large, but so is our capacity to solve them -- only if all those who profess a love for this City of Big Shoulders are willing to bear the responsibility for keeping it strong.
So today, I ask of each of you -- those who live here, and those who work here; business and labor: Let us share the necessary sacrifices fairly and justly.
If everyone will give a little, no one will have to give too much.
And together, we will keep faith with future generations, and the visionaries of our past, who built on the shores of Lake Michigan a city where dreams are made.
Thank you. God bless you. And God bless the city of Chicago.