New Mayor Emanuel’s Road Map for Chicago’s Future

by Mary C. Piemonte 

Publisher’s Note: Regular readers might have noticed a change in the by-line of our Editor-in-Chief, who was formerly known as Mary C. Johns. Mary got married last month and changed her name to her new husband’s family name. On behalf of the board and staff of We The People Media/Residents’ Journal, congratulations Mary!

Chicago Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel being sworn into office by the Honorable Timothy Evans, chief Judge of the Circuit Court of Cook County as his wife and children looks on, at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park, on May 16, 2011. Photo by Mary C. Piemonte

“Today, more than any other time in our history, more than any other place in our country, the city of Chicago is ready for change,” said new Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel at his inaugural ceremony before a massive crowd at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park today.

“For all the parents who deserve a school system that expects every student to earn a diploma; for all the neighbors who deserve to walk home on safer streets; for all the taxpayers who deserve a city government that is more effective and costs less; and for all the people in the hardest-working city in America who deserve a strong economy so they can find jobs or create jobs – this is your day.”

Emanuel said he was dispensing with “old ways and old divisions…New times demand new answers; old problems cry out for better results…I am proud to lead a city united in common purpose and driven by a common thirst for change.”

To accomplish his goals, Emanuel said, “We must face the truth about 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.

“It is time to take on the challenges that threaten the very future of our city. The decisions we make in the next two or three years will determine what Chicago will look like in the next 20 or 30,” he said.

Emanuel praised outgoing Mayor Richard M. Daley’s 22-year tenure over City Hall, saying “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.”

But a generation later, the city was in better shape. Referring to the pavilion in which he was standing, Emanuel said what was once “a nagging urban eyesore” is now a world-class urban park.

“Back then, this was an abandoned rail yard,” Emanuel said, lauding his former boss Mayor Daley’s “vision, determination and leadership.

“When Richard M. Daley took office as mayor 22 years ago, he challenged all of us to lower our voices and raise our sights,” declared Emanuel. “Nobody ever loved Chicago more or served it better than Richard Daley,” he added.

Emanuel’s Plan for Schools

Emanuel said he has “big shoes to fill.” In shaping the city’s future, Emanuel said “Our children, and their schools, must come first.”

He added that when it comes to improving the Chicago Public Schools system, he said, “I will not be a patient mayor.”

He said today, the Chicago Public Schools system only graduates half of its students. With one of the shortest school days and school years in the country, Emanuel added that those who earn a diploma are shortchanged. He proposed lengthening the school day and reforming teacher tenure.

“By high school graduation, a student in Houston has been in the classroom an equivalent of three years longer than a student in Chicago, even when both started kindergarten on the very same day…Each child has one chance at a good education. Every single one of them deserves the very best we can provide,” Emanuel said.

To lead in his efforts in transforming the public school system, Emanuel said his Education Transition Team consists of “a courageous new schools CEO and a strong and highly qualified new school board with zero tolerance for the status quo and a proven track record of results to back it up.

“My responsibility is to provide our children with highly qualified and motivated teachers and I will work day and night to meet that obligation,” he said.

Parental involvement was also essential to improving the school system, he said.

“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.”

Emanuel added that he was encouraged by an educational reform law that the Illinois legislature passed recently and which Gov. Pat Quinn (D-IL) said he will soon sign.

On Public Safety

“Chicago has always had the build of a big city with the heart of a small town,” Emanuel said. “But that heart is being broken as our children continue to be victims of violence, in their homes, on their porches, and some on their way to and from school.”

Emanuel said during the campaign he visited a memorial site in the Roseland community that lists names of children who have been killed by gun violence. He said the memorial site is only a few years old. But with 220 names, it has already run out of space, and he added that 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?” Emanuel said. “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.”

Emanuel said people cannot look away or “become numb” by the street violence.

“Kids belong in our schools, on our playgrounds and in our parks, not frozen in time on the side of a grim memorial,” he said.

Emanuel summed up his comments on public safety by touting the record of his new police chief, former Newark, NJ, Police Chief Garry McCarthy: “As a beat officer on the force who worked his way through the ranks, and the leader of a department who dramatically reduced violent crime, he is the right man at the right time for the right job. But here too, like with our schools, partnership is key. The police cannot do it alone.”

Reforming City Government

Emanuel said he and his administration will also work on solving the city’s fiscal crisis. “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 what we had in the past. And taxpayers deserve a more effective and efficient government than the one we have today,” he said.

“The old ways no longer work. It is time for a new era of responsibility and reform,” he added.

Referring to Republican leaders who have made deep cuts to public budgets in other states, Emanuel said he “rejects how leaders in Wisconsin and Ohio are exploiting their fiscal crisis to achieve a political goal….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.”

Emanuel said he expected opposition but that he was ready to confront his critics. “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.”

Mentioning U.S. Census data which shows the city’s population is declining, Emanuel said he intended to make Chicago a business-friendly environment: “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.”

In the past, Emanuel has been criticized by Latino organizations and advocates for immigration, but during the campaign, he tried to build bridges to those communities. And on his inauguration day, the new Mayor urged the state legislature to pass the Illinois Dream Act, which would give the children of undocumented immigrants the chance to go to college.

“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,” he said.

Emanuel ended his inaugural speech by saying that stronger schools, safer streets, an effective and affordable government and good-paying jobs are the fundamental challenges confronting our city.

“If we can get these things right, nothing can stop Chicago,” Emanuel said. “And people will come to see a city on the move.”

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