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Gutierrez: Text of City Club speech. Blueprint for a mayoral run?

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Can I help by running for Mayor of this great City?
That's the question Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) asked at his City Club speech on Monday.
Can he?
Click below for text of speech.

prepared text

Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez
City Club of Chicago

I want to thank my friends at the City Club for the kind invitation to be with you today.

And, thanks to all of you for coming downtown in the middle of day. I know it’s not easy to break away from work and I appreciate you being here.

Actually, come to think of it, just one week ago today, I did something very similar.

I spent time with a few people who took a break from work to join a discussion and debate about public policy. About 400,000 people to be precise.

In fact, they slipped away for the whole day. Some of them pulled their children out of school to be a part of that historic day. Restaurant and store owners even closed down so their employees could come downtown.

To accommodate everyone who left work last Monday, Maggiano’s would have to set up about 40,000 more tables. That would be a pretty good lunch business. I’m sorry the draw today is lower.

When you speak here, the City Club asks you to title your speech. The title I chose is “A Vision for Chicago’s Future.��? I chose that title before last Monday’s march.

The truth is one week ago, all of us – whether we marched ourselves, watched from an office building or saw it on the news – all of us saw Chicago’s future. We saw a very human vision of Chicago’s future.

Obviously, one week ago, it wasn’t speeches that filled the loop with unprecedented crowds.

What filled city after city and what is changing the direction of our nation – is an idea.

An idea that resonates in Chicago. In fact, an idea that is at the heart of my vision for the future of our city.

I believe the idea that drew nearly half a million people out of their homes, away from their jobs and made activists out of average folks who usually go about their lives quietly is this:

Opportunities for working people.

The ability to do better for yourself and for your family, to have economic security and to build a better future.

I believe if you care about Chicago’s future, the simple – but powerful -- idea of building opportunities for working people should guide your vision.

Here’s what I mean:

Cities compete just like corporations do – for capital, for investment, for the human infrastructure that defines success or failure.

I want Chicago to compete and to win.

I want Chicago to excel and grow because we provide more opportunities for working people.

We can do that – and do it better – in three ways.

First, we focus on the most vital part of a city’s infrastructure: our public schools.

And we focus on them every day -- without distractions like billion-dollar lakefront park projects or Olympic dreams.

Second, we do what any corporation facing leadership failures does: we forge a new management contract with the people we serve. That means top to bottom reform of city government, from the way we hire employees, to the way we raise money for political campaigns.

Third, we shift our city resources toward our overall goal: opportunities for working people. That means investment in the programs that matter most to the human capital of Chicago in every single neighborhood – job creation, public transportation, affordable housing.

I think these three pillars should be the basis of a new contract with the people of Chicago:

• improve our schools
• reform our government
• invest in our people

This is a roadmap to a growing, thriving Chicago that competes in the 21st century economy.

The marches were living proof that this roadmap is the right thing to do.

Nearly half-a-million people marched in Chicago last week.

It’s as if all of Cleveland – every single person – or all of Albuquerque or Kansas City or Oakland – got on busses and came to our city to march.

But in all of the scapegoating and punditry that surrounds the immigration debate, the real message of those marchers can get lost.

It was about the importance of work. Taking pride in one’s work and one’s potential. Opportunities for working people.

Immigrants come to Chicago today for the same reason they have always come.

For the same reason that most of you in this room came to our city or chose to stay.

It’s not the weather. It’s not the Lyric Opera or the lakefront. It’s not even the Cubs or the Bulls. What we saw on Monday was a half-million people who care about jobs.

Opportunities for working people. Whether you come to Chicago because a landscaping company has a nine-dollar-an-hour job for you or because Winston and Strawn offers you a six or seven figure partnership, you come because you are hoping for opportunities to work, to thrive, and make a better life.

But the reasons you stay are different. And that’s why a new vision for Chicago’s future is so important.

You stay in Chicago because the public schools educate your children well. You stay because you trust your city government to deliver the services you need and not waste your tax dollars on patronage and corruption.

On Monday, we saw half a million people who have come here and want to stay.

That’s a powerful message about our city’s potential. Our city is healthy because those half-million marchers have given Chicago a shot of adrenaline to power it into the 21st century. That is why my vision for Chicago’s future and the message of the march – can’t be separated.

It’s not a Mexican message. Or Latino message. Or immigrant message.

It’s an American message. It’s a Chicago message.

We all know these lines from Carl Sandburg’s poem. “City of big shoulders. Hog butcher. Tool Maker.��?

But I like these lines better:

Come and show me another city with lifted head singing
so proud to be alive and coarse and strong and cunning.

Here is a tall bold slugger set vivid against the
little soft cities

Don’t those lines describe Monday’s march? Don’t they describe a city that wants to work and grow? On Monday, wasn’t Chicago set vivid against little soft cities?

I love Chicago.

My dad barely spoke English, drove a cab sometimes 12 hours a day, almost never took a vacation. My mom worked in a factory. I was thrilled to get a paper route so I could have a couple extra dollars. The story of every person in my neighborhood was just the same. And yet – in Chicago – a city that values work – look at what you can accomplish.

It has always been our economy – our opportunities for working people -- that make Chicago vivid and set us apart from those little, soft cities.

A city’s vitality – a city’s beating heart – is its people.

When the Lithuanians and Bohemians and Poles who made their homes and businesses on and around 26th Street in Chicago moved to the suburbs, the southwest side of our city could have withered and died. Instead, it was resuscitated, by immigrants.

Chicago’s population – its beating heart -- has grown for the first time in 30 years because of the people you saw marching.

Remember, population isn’t just numbers on a page. A growing population means an increasing tax base. It means a larger share of federal and state resources. It means that key capital -- human capital and the entrepreneurs, ideas, competition that goes with it -- is flowing back into our city.

I look around this room and I see the business people who make Chicago work.

I ask you: look at the march for what it really is. It’s small businesses waiting to be born. Researchers who will develop new products. Artists who will revitalize old neighborhoods. Consumers who will buy more products.

A growing Chicago has growing dreams. An expanding Chicago has expanding potential.

Chicago has flourished because it changes and adapts.

Newcomers that threaten the status quo? That’s not a new idea.

In 1920, Chicago was also changing.

Massive immigration filled the stockyards and the steel industries, but pay was low and conditions were terrible. The education system couldn’t keep up with the growing population. And – just to show you that this was truly a long time ago -- Chicago had a Republican Mayor – Big Bill Thompson.

Big Bill kept his grip tight by assuring that the old immigrants to Chicago – the real Chicagoans, you know the Germans and the English – kept political power away from those scary and unpredictable new immigrants to the City – the Irish and the Italians.

In fact you might enjoy these words from a newspaper editorial from around that time.

"These people are by their nature unruly and not fit for civil society and government. We have little hope of containing them other than by force of law."

The source of that quote? No, not the self-proclaimed Minute Men we hear so much from today.

That’s an editorial in the esteemed New York Times, 1895.

And who was not fit for civil society and government?


Well, Big Bill Thompson worked to keep the new kids out of the corridors of power as best he could.

But he failed. And Chicago thrived because instead of fearing change, it embraced it.

So those new immigrants -- Irish and Italian and Bohemian and Czech and Russian – decided they needed a voice. And they organized and registered to vote. And in 1931, a Czech immigrant was elected Mayor. Anton Cermak won because he was a coalition builder. After Cermak’s death, Chicago turned to another group of new immigrants – it elected its first Irish Mayor, Edward Kelly.

My history gets a little fuzzy after that – but I’m pretty sure that the Irish have continued to have some input into Chicago politics.

But my point is not that power derives from one person who sits in the big chair on the fifth floor of city hall.

Rather, it is the people who have always made and remade Chicago.

Change doesn’t start at the top. It starts at the bottom.

Change doesn’t start in City Hall. Change starts in the neighborhoods.

In Chicago, it started with Germans at the turn of the century, then the Irish, African-Americans 30 years later.

And now, today with Latinos.

But not with Latinos alone. With Latinos as part of a coalition. A coalition with African-Americans and other immigrants and working people who are revitalizing our city and want to be part of a better Chicago.

That is our heritage, and that is our future. And that is my vision.

I’ll say it again. Three priorities.

• improve our schools
• reform our government
• invest in our people

First, schools. A city without quality schools is a city without opportunity. A city without a future.

On schools, Mayor Daley has worked hard and made a difference.

But we have a long way to go.

For all of the progress we’ve made in our schools, the most notable number we’ve heard lately is the number “six.��?

That’s the number of Chicago Public School freshman out of every 100 who will graduate from a four-year college. The number is two for Latino males. Two.

That’s unacceptable. That’s offensive. It means that all across Chicago, despite a decade of school reform, there are families who simply have no hope. No future.

Judge the next leader of the city of Chicago by whether he changes that number.

A high school dropout, on average, earns about $22,000 per year. A college graduate, on average, earns $50,000 per year. I want more graduates.

How do we get there?

Raise standards. Respect teachers. Realize that we need entirely different and creative paths to success for children who are not making it to college.

When I say raise standards, I mean do it aggressively.

When we expect more, we get more. The high school curriculum should be strengthened. Governor Blagojevich raised state graduation standards for the first time in 21 years. Chicago should go even farther. Make your standard excellence, not what’s acceptable. More advanced placement courses. More individualized help. More direct college preparation.

And give kids the teachers who will help them reach those goals. One thing that troubles me about public schools is that many teachers have to scrape by to even afford to live in the city. In addition to paying our teachers what they are worth, in addition to rewarding excellence, I would propose direct housing assistance that makes teachers core members of the communities where they are teaching our children.

Tough standards. Good teachers. And a path to college.

Some good news last week about schools was the demonstrated success of charter schools. They put kids in position to succeed at a much higher rate than other CPS schools. We should dramatically increase our number of charter schools. If they need to be the rule rather than the exception, then that should be our goal.

To make these changes takes leadership.

I strongly believe that the people of Chicago have the right to ask every single day of their Mayor: what have you done this month -- this week -- today -- to improve our schools.

Lately, I believe the answer would be that our Mayor has been distracted by less important priorities. By Millennium Park. By an Olympic bid. Improve our schools, and beautiful parks and a world-class lakefront follow. Take your eye off of our schools, and the people who care about our parks will go away.

Attention, and focus, and resources are not infinite.

Every hour spent on the Olympics is an hour that could be spent on schools. Every dollar to build a world-class bicycle racing track is a dollar that could be redirected toward teachers.

Should I lead this city, I have no interest in my legacy being the number of visitors to a beautiful lakefront park or the year the Olympics came here. It would be how many more kids graduated, how many quality teachers we hire, how many new schools we built.

Six out of 100 kids graduating from college cannot stand -- and neither the bean nor any number of Olympic gold medals will change that number.

Here’s what will.

In my vision for the future, every single work day for the leader of Chicago starts with improving public schools. Every day.

Second. Reform our government.

It’s easy to say. It’s harder to do. But it must be done.

I’ve been an Alderman and a Congressman. I’ve seen City Hall up close. It’s not pretty. I know when it comes to personnel, and hiring, that there are no-half measures.

So if I were leading this city, I would take hiring – which is at the heart of the headlines we’ve read coming out of City Hall – I would take the hiring of city workers out of city hands.

Privatize it. Hire an HR firm. Give them direction and let them do it appropriately and professionally – not politically.

Corporations do it. Motorola does it. Boeing does it. Find out how. Do it right. Do it fast.

It doesn’t mean devalue workers – it doesn’t mean attack unions. I would not treat workers poorly – I would hire them professionally. You will get better workers, who focus on delivering city services instead of delivering the right results in their precinct on Election Day.

Second, I’ve lived for 14 years with strict federal guidelines on how to raise money. I supported the McCain Feingold campaign reforms. They take corporate money out of politics. We should bring it to the city.

Further, bring sunshine to contributions. Disclose them more quickly, with more information about the individuals who give. Fundraising should be an open book.

These two proposals would be seismic shifts in the culture of politics in the city of Chicago.

Third. Invest in people. Opportunities for working people means a shift in priorities toward the services and programs that Chicagoans rely on every day.

I’m gravely concerned about the future of the CTA. We cannot live with annual doomsday scenarios from the CTA leadership about the future viability of public transit in Chicago.

As a member of Congress, I helped bring back more than $300 million dollars for the Blue Line. But then I had to fight to keep the stations open at the times that people would use them. Affordable, efficient public transit means more opportunities for working people, and I’ll make it a priority.

I also will make aggressive job creation a priority again in our city. I believe we’ve ignored placing Chicago on the forefront of the new economy. While the state has used Edge tax credits and other incentives to make Illinois compete better, too often Chicago is willing to watch quietly while jobs go to Aurora – or Austin -- instead of our neighborhoods.

I want opportunities for workers in our traditional industries, and I want Chicago to think creatively about how we bring new industries and businesses to the City that Works – where they belong.

And I want to work with you to do it.

Because change is good. Not unlike a company, or a sports team, or a civic institution, government suffers from having the same leadership too long. That same leadership talks to the same people, hears the same ideas, trusts the same advisers. Chicago needs a new dialogue between business, labor and government that grows new incentives for a new economy. Not enough of you are being listened to. It’s time to get a bigger table with new seats that lead to new ideas.

Improve our schools. Reform our government. Invest in our people.

I would like to help Chicago reach these goals.

Should I be re-elected in November, my eighth term will be my last in Congress.

I will continue to travel the country and fight for the rights of immigrants.

I am building a new organization here in Chicago that unites the Latino community in new ways. Building coalitions. Setting goals. Demanding action and real results.

I can tell you that the march was just the beginning. We will naturalize our immigrants. I’m leading a national day of citizenship the first week of July. In Chicago, we will register them to vote. In Chicago, we will get them to the polls – in record numbers -- on Election Day.

In 1920 the Irish out-organized everyone. African-Americans did it 60 years later. I feel it happening again.

Because we can give working people in Chicago something to believe in – a reason to register and vote in record numbers.

Chicago is a strong city, a great city.

But it’s not great enough. Not for everybody, not for all of our people. Not when the schools still aren’t meeting our expectations. Not when government has lost control and lost touch. Not when the CTA threatens to eviscerate its services and we don’t even have enough affordable housing for our teachers.

I would like to help Chicago turn the page on the next chapter of its history.

Can I help by running for Mayor of this great City?

I don’t know. But I do know this: now that I’ve decided to leave Congress, I have the opportunity to become the most productive – and slightly dangerous -- kind of politician – one who doesn’t worry every day about getting elected.

Chicago could benefit from having more politicians with nothing to lose.

No patronage to protect.

No special interests to please.

I’ve already been lucky enough. I’ve been blessed. I’m the son of a cab driver who will have served eight terms in the greatest legislative body in the history of the world.

I look forward to more time with my family and my community.

But, it would be awfully hard for me to say no to a campaign for Mayor – if that campaign can help Chicago.

If that campaign says over and over again: better schools, reform government, create opportunities for working people.

If that campaign is more about empowering people, raising issues and taking on the status quo than simply changing the names and faces of those who hand out the patronage at City Hall.

A campaign that would rather tell the truth, and lose, than compromise, and win.

There is much more we can do together. Let me know what you think about the direction our city should take. How Chicago can reach its full potential? How can we work together?

When Martin Luther King led one of America’s other great marches, the march on Washington more than 40 years ago, he stood beneath the statue of Abraham Lincoln and said, “We refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation.��?

I believe Chicago has great, vast vaults of opportunity. For the people who marched last week. For the people in this room. For every person who desires a greater future for their family. I hope together, we can help every working person in Chicago to cash that check of opportunity.

Thank you again for having me here.

1 Comment

While I lived in his district, Gutierrez never seemed very intereested in the concerns of bungalow belt dwellers like me. In fact, Gutierrez seemed to do a far better job of representing Puerto Rico in Congress than he did Chicago. God help you all if he becomes Mayor.

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Lynn Sweet

Lynn Sweet is a columnist and the Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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This page contains a single entry by Lynn Sweet published on May 11, 2006 9:00 AM.

Family-held public office: Hynes, Daley, Madigan, Lipinski and now... Stroger. Isn't Chicago great! was the previous entry in this blog.

Sweet column: Hastert--The inside story on why he spoke out against Hayden is the next entry in this blog.

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