Farewell to “the best job in America”

Farewell address by RICHARD M. DALEY, Mayor, Chicago; delivered at a meeting of the City Council, Chicago City Hall, Chicago, Ill. May 4, 2011.

First of all, I think, for history’s sake, this is the longest I’ve ever sat in this seat. I think every alderman knows that. Usually, I’m up and down, running around, doing this. But this is history.

On behalf of my family, and I’d like to recognize the Hon. Miguel del Valle, our city clerk, Shirley Newsome, the Alderman, Ald. Lyle, Ald. Olivo, Ald. Rugai, Ald. Dixon, Ald. Rice, Ald. Doherty, Ald. Vi Daley, Ald. Levar, Ald. Shiller, Ald. Schulter, Ald. Mary Ann Smith, Ald. Bernie Stone and their families for their great commitment to public service. They have sacrificed on behalf of their community and they have worked hard on behalf of the entire city. This is a legislative body that we truly can be proud of. They’ve worked, they compromised, they’ve moved legislation forward to improve the quality of life of their respective wards and the entire city. Let’s give them a round of applause. Thank you.

I would like to thank all those who have worked with me for 22 years in the city council, those who have passed on, those who are with us in other capacities. I’d like to thank them for their great commitment at moving this city forward. I’ve had the great privilege of growing up in a wonderful family. My parents, my grandfather, my three brothers and three sisters, and someone who lived with us—an aunt. I found out later she was not my aunt. We lived in a bungalow. When you pass there now, you wonder how we all survived.

And to all my neighbors—many of them worked in the stockyards, their mothers and fathers. Many were truck drivers in the industry in the stockyards. And I had the privilege of going to Engine 29 and the 9th District. I grew up with policemen and firemen who were part of our block, it was right in our same block, to meet with them and to think about them when John Blythe was killed—a young man, a friend of my family’s, out south a detective was killed, Capt. Donovan, … when they were killed. The effect—their families and our family were so close, and what that impression had to me, as a young man growing up to see—all men, to be very frank, in uniform, all dedicated, in some way, I knew their families, and the impact they had on me—men and women in uniform—whether your sons or daughters, fathers and mothers, firemen and policemen or military. What a great commitment of public service they’ve given and do commit to public service and their families, and to see them continually, even today as we honor the men here and women of the Chicago Police Department and the Fire Department, what they give back continually. As we have a resolution honoring the SEALS, with what they did on behalf of our nation.

But thinking of my family and the commitment my father made to all of my brothers and sisters, about the education … a commitment of DePaul and Providence College and law school, all my brothers and sisters. My father said, ‘I’ll give you a good name, good moral values from your church beliefs, and then I’ll give you an education.’ And those are really the foundations that I live by continually, and I’ve enjoyed every minute of public life … from state senator, state’s attorney and the mayor of the city of Chicago. Public service is a great calling and a great profession, regardless of what we may read or what they may say about one another. It doesn’t matter. You are truly a public servant. You serve on behalf of the people of the city of Chicago. And when I raised my hand at the Chicago Symphony, their auditorium, and to raise my hand to take this oath of office, I had the firm belief that the city was going to work together. We came through some difficult and troubling times in our city. But I firmly believe that people of all races, colors and creeds and ethnic origin were going to get together because of the foundation of an immigrant city. We were founded by immigrants, and immigrants always work together. And I firmly believe, whatever people said politically, it didn’t matter because I firmly believe the city was going to move forward as a city, that we’d set aside our differences and we’re going to move forward. And the city has moved forward. We are a much better city.

In regards to our relationships with one another, each one of you told a different story—how we’ve all came together. And that doesn’t mean we (won’t) have disagreements or difference of opinion on issues. It doesn’t matter, we’re going to have that. You have that within your family, you have that in community—that doesn’t matter.

But the long objective, I found from all of you, all 50 of those I worked with, you had one common goal: What was good for the city of Chicago. It doesn’t matter whether you agreed or disagreed with me. One common goal: How are we going to improve the city of Chicago? And that was my firm commitment. You have to have passion, and you have to have honesty in the office. You have to have to love the people. And from my experience, is meeting people. People ask me: ‘Why do you keep going? Why does this job excite you?’ It’s the people that you meet. You meet extraordinary people every day: Some where you thought they could not survive; some where you thought there’s a mark on their back because they came out of prison; some where you thought they were so poor that they didn’t have anything in their lives; or some way something happened to them that they would not be strong citizens. But these are remarkable people that always pull themselves up. My father taught me, never step on a person when they’re down, never kick a person when they’re down —anybody can do that in life. So that was one tradition we always thought —never kick or keep someone down. You have a helping hand. You have to have a helping hand in life because if you don’t, you’re not much of a person in life. So that helping hand is needed continually in life in this great city.

I’m very proud of my family. My son Patrick is here, who served in the military. I’m very proud of all the men and women that served in the military. My daughter is here. My wife is recuperating. My daughter is in school. And of course my son, Kevin, in Heaven is looking down upon me with my parents. You always think of those that you have lost in your life that had an impact upon your life, and my son had a great impact. He only lived for 2 ½ years, but his life was like 50 years of something. He lived continually to survive in life. And that’s one thing (that) came out of that terrible death of my son, realizing that life is so precious and you use every moment of time.

I want to thank my wonderful cabinet, all the cabinets over the years, all my chiefs of staffs; we have many of them. And all my people who worked in government. And all those blue notes I would send to you. I don’t know what I’m going to do with the blue notes; maybe I’ll send them to the aldermen or something. All my notes that I gather in my trips around the city or in my trips around the world, and reading articles and magazines. Everything else that I get a hold of. And just think how can we adopt this to the city. That was to me … this is the greatest job in America. I don’t care what anyone tells me, this is a great job, because when you have the passion. And it’s not about pollsters. It’s not about telling you get a poll and tell you what to do. It’s not about texting. It’s not about e-mailing. It’s all about what you have in your gut and how you feel for this city. And you see new people arriving today. We have immigrants coming at one end. And then we have young people coming in the other end. When they mix, what a great energy you have for this city. Cities don’t have that. New York has the energy of young and immigrants. We have the same thing, and we have to capitalize on that. We have to make sure that we mesh this together, that this city is going to move forward and as a global city. We’re not going to debate whether or not we’re going to be competing against New York, Los Angeles or Atlanta. We’re going to be competing against China, India, Brazil, Germany, Indonesia. Those are countries unbelievable today. Manufacturing bases. And Germany is doing better than they’ve ever done before. Look what China has done overnight, in less than 15 years. And you see India moving forward so rapidly. And of course Brazil, as a nation, that we don’t realize, the natural resources and the extent they will have in this hemisphere will be Brazil. Brazil will be a wonderful ally and a partner to us, if we’re willing to have a free trade agreement with them. And to see all of this as mayor. To me, coming back always as your mayor, always believing that block club, that ethnic parade, those libraries, and all the dedications are important.

But I knew in taking over responsibility of public schools, that this was the greatest opportunity to change our city. If I give a child an education for life, they have independence for life. They don’t have the problems of poverty and hopelessness. And that’s why I firmly believe, whatever you can do is to really support this education system. We owe it to our children, thinking outside the box. We owe it to our children that adults don’t interfere and get in the way of a child’s education (so that it) should be hampered or denied; I believe in that. And when I took over the Chicago Housing Authority, everyone told me about education and Housing Authority, ‘You’re not going to win. Those are impossible things to do.’ But if I drove down State Street and looked at one side and said to myself, boy, we’re really doing well, and looked to the other side and said, I guess that’s public housing—that’s going to be the way. That cannot be the way. I went to President Clinton. … He stood with me. I personally want to thank President Bush. He gave me more money for public housing. I went to him. I said, ‘Mr. President, I want to do something with public housing.’ He said, ‘What do you want to do?’ I said, ‘I want to rebuild their souls. I don’t want to build houses and houses and stack them up. But I think the people and their families, and their children and grandchildren deserve something better. This cannot be our country. You cannot allow this.’ And he took a political risk because 99.9 percent of the people are never going to vote for him.

Remember that. … And I said, ‘We’re going to put money up as a city. We’re going to do things.’ I shook his hand. He said, ‘You’ve got an agreement.’ And every one of his secretaries at HUD gave us an enormous amount of money. … I always personally thanked him for that. He never took any accolades. He never wanted you to applaud him, never wanted any resolutions. He just did it because he firmly believed that we could show the way with public housing. And now, all across the country and all across the world, they are all coming in to deal with high-rise public housing. It isn’t good to stack people upon people, who come from rural areas, in this city and in the world. To me, those two developments, to me, made a marked difference in the people of the city of Chicago.

But in 1989, I received six percent of the African-American vote. Prior to that in 1988, I received in the primary general election, 95, 98, as all Democrats did. I went out and campaigned in the community. I was determined then that no way, that they were not going to believe that I was not their mayor. And I pledged to myself that every day, every day, the block clubs, the community organizations, the church leaders, that I was going to make sure that I was their mayor. And I worked and worked on that behalf. And I thank the community and their elected officials and all of them to come together on behalf of this great city.

And to me, I could go on and on … and sure, for 22 years I’ve been on a schedule, for 32 years, seven days of my life, and I loved every minute of public service. To me, it is a great calling, it is a great profession. This country is too great, and I’ve said that repeatedly as I travel and I come back. Everyone in the world wants to come here—it’s amazing. We’re in a recession and it’s hurting people. But think about the Depression, think about the Depression, what your fathers and grandfathers went through. Think of that. We have more confidence in our country. We’re getting too negative about America.

America is a great country. We’re just so negative about things, and to me, this is such a great country that we can be better. That doesn’t mean we’re all going be in the same campaign or something together on an issue. But it’s too great of a country to think we’re going to be lost in the future. We’re not going to get a better way of life for our children or grandchildren. We are going to do that because that’s within our soul. That’s our belief that this country can do better. And I firmly believe that because of the people in my office. I have a little place in my office in my conference room. And you see a lot of pictures of people. Most of them, to be very frank, are the military, fire and police. And I have family members, and then I have people I met in my life, like Father Dowd who sat behind me at De La Salle High School—great priest, most of his brothers and sisters are policemen, great commitment to public service. I keep that there for one reason—because I’m human. I may be your mayor, but I’m human. You have to really believe who you are. The title alone doesn’t give you that responsibility and the respect; you have to earn it. And every time I walk in my office and sit down, look at all these pictures of these men and women who get killed in the line of duty, died in the line of duty or died who were my personal friends or my family —that’s what makes you human. That’s what makes your soul. That’s what makes my love of this city is those people there. And to me, there is no greater feeling when we look there and think of them and what they gave to us, that I can do better and give to the city.

In my 22 years, every minute I continually think about the city. I’m wondering what I’m going to do after May 16th in regards to not thinking about the city. It doesn’t matter what I do—I’ve always said, you have to do this, you have to do that. And that’s how I feel about the city. And to encourage you, and those who are newly elected, to encourage you to collaborate and to work together and to compromise and to move the agenda forward. Because if we don’t, as a global city, we owe it to this generation and another generation to make this city the best city, not only in the United States, but in the world. And you’ve done it with me. I thank you. I ask you to do it with Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel, to make that strong commitment to the feelings that we can move forward in regards to this city —and I know you can do it, because I think each and every one of you love this city, you love your community and you love public service.

I thank you for the opportunity to represent you. It is a great honor to be the mayor of the city of Chicago and, of course, I thank all those that have helped me in so many different ways, both personally and publicly, to make me a better mayor, to make me a better mayor for all those issues that we thought were so controversial, but some way we all realized that we all can participate. And those ideas, coming from where it came from, those are the best of times. And there will be better times ahead because you’re going to do greater things than I’ve ever done in 22 years. You will do it as quickly as possible, I hope, for the city of Chicago. God bless your families. I wish you the best of health and happiness. I thank you for being elected officials. I thank all those that are retiring that have gave that passion and commitment to our city, your selflessness in regards to your family. To me, your families are right behind you at all times and extended family. And I thank the Fourth Estate for continuing praising me. Thank you very much.

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