Rahm Emanuel became Chicago’s 46th Mayor Monday at an outdoor inauguration held in the warm sunshine at Millennium Park surrounded by about 600 people.
The most surprising things he told us in his speech: Chicago isn’t named “the Second City” because of our population, but because a large section of the city was rebuilt following the great fire that swept through thousands of wood buildings over a three day period in 1871.
He also told us the City of Big Shoulders has some big hurdles to overcome, although he made sure to give his predecessor, Mayor Richard M. Daley, some kind words including noting one of his biggest accomplishments was converting the railyards into Millennium Park.
I’ve been to the inaugurations of several mayors beginning with Mike Bilandic, then Jane M. Byrne, then Harold Washington, then Eugene Sawyer and then Richie Daley. Alderman David Orr, who was the president pro tempore when Washington died, served as acting mayor for two weeks and didn’t have an inauguration.
After a while, mayoral inauguration speeches start to sound the same. Emanuel’s speech was no different, with only a few notable exceptions. While Emanuel offered his predecessor some kind words, very few of his predecessors did the same for the mayor’s who held office before them.
Byrne hammered her predecessor, Bilandic. Washington hammered Byrne. Sawyer was too shocked that he had been named acting mayor by the City Council to hammer anyone. And Rich Daley never said any nice things about Byrne.
Byrne was invited to and attended Emanuel’s inauguration, even though she was left out of all of Daley’s subsequent swearing-ins. Is that because Emanuel and Byrne share one thing in common that the other mayors do not? They are both North Siders.
Besides that trivia, though. Emanuel said pretty much what all of his predecessors have been saying since I first arrived at Chicago’s City Hall as a reporter in 1977. Chicago has financial problems and can’t pay all its bills.
Do you think that’s new? That Chicago can’t pay its bills. That’s what politicians want. If they had a city that paid all of its bills there would be so many things they like to do that they wouldn’t be able to do.
For example, with a major budget shortfall — Emanuel’s Chicago faces a $587 budget deficit that he has asserted is on track to reach $1 billion — the new mayor can fire a lot of employees. He would fire a lot of employees not just to save money but to make room for his hires.
Every mayor wants to hire their own people. So, you fire them because of the budget problems and then re-fill those vacant positions over the course of the next two years with your friends, relatives, pals and contributors.
How mayors ended their speeches tells you about the challenges they had besides the budget.
For Jane Byrne, it was reminding the Chicago Machine that battled her and that she defeated that the people elected her to office.
Jane Byrne said, “Governments everywhere – at the national, state and city levels – are in the throes of the revolution of rising expectations. The people ask much, often more than any government can give. We must resist the temptation to promise solutions to all problems. But we will set high goals and strive to achieve them. Reach for the stars … and if we fall short … look how high up we’ll be anyway. Grave problems confront us. The challenges they present are of sobering magnitude. They cry out for solution. So, with the help of God, let us begin.”
Washington faced a city divided by race and won office with less than a majority of the votes cast in the election.
Washington said, “I hope someday to be remembered by history as the Mayor who cared about people and who was, above all, fair. A Mayor who helped, who really helped, heal our wounds and stood the watch while the City and its people answered the greatest challenge in more than a century. Who saw that City renewed. My good friends and neighbors, the oath of office that I have taken today before God binds us all together. I cannot be successful without you. But with you, we cannot fail. I reach out my hand and I ask for your help. With the same adventurous spirit of Jean Pointe Baptiste DuSable when he founded Chicago, we are going to do some great deeds here together…Let’s go to work.”
Sawyer was selected to succeed Sawyer not by the city’s coalition of African American activists and allies of Washington, but with the backing of the city’s White Aldermen.
Sawyer told his audience, “I shall put my administration at the disposal of all of the people to build an even greater Chicago: a wealthier Chicago; a Chicago where everyone has a place. This, I feel, would certainly be a fitting legacy to our fallen leader. And last, but certainly not least, to my friend, Mayor Harold Washington, who left his gavel in my hand each time he left this Council Chamber, I pledge to you my friend…I will never let you down. I will never violate the trust you vested in me, for you were the greatest. I say, farewell to you my buddy…I will never, never, never let you down…God Bless.”
And Rich Daley faced a city scarred by racial divisions and the notion that he was silver-spooned in to office on the coattails of his father’s Machine.
To separate himself from his father’s clout, Daley chose to quote from a former mayor whom he described as “one of our greatest mayors,” quoting from Carter Harrison who said at his inauguration, “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.”
In speaking to a city that is not as familiar with him as they are with the Daley name, Mayor Emanuel ended his speech reminding everyone of the challenges the city faces.
He said, “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.”