Over the last week, Chicago’s debt was dinged by three major credit agencies. And while the city’s pension and financial crises loom large, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel chose instead to kick off his second term with a speech that encourages Chicagoans to take action to prevent another “lost generation” of the city’s disadvantaged youth.
“It’s time to stop turning our heads and turning the channel,” Emanuel said. “It’s time for each of us to start breaking down those walls. We can’t abandon the most vulnerable children to the gang and the gun. They have the potential and desire to be so much more.”
Emanuel spoke at the Chicago Theatre, a change in venue from the previous inaugural festivities at Millennium Park. The city’s 50 aldermen, Treasurer Kurt Summers and Clerk Susana Mendoza were also sworn in Monday.
Chicago’s newest crop of politicians shared the stage with many familiar dignitaries like former Mayor Richard M. Daley and former President Bill Clinton, who received the most enthusiastic welcome from the audience; even more so than the mayor himself. Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner was not in attendance, though Mayor Emanuel attended his inauguration earlier this year.
Emanuel only briefly mentioned the city’s fiscal woes during his remarks, calling the pressing pension and financial issues “not of our making” while his predecessor, Mayor Daley, sat just a few seats down from him on the stage.
“Even in a time of fiscal challenges, we all need to do more for our young people who are economically and spiritually hungry,” he explained. “And we must come to realize that this is not just a problem for certain communities. Anything that stunts the hope and the expectations and the opportunities for thousands of young Chicagoans undermines Chicago’s future. ” Emanuel said.
The mayor went on to say that government programs are a helpful resource toward this end, but they’re not set up to provide “a moral compass.” He called on Chicago residents to become role models for young people, asking all to share the “values that made you who you are.”
Many in the audience, including progressive aldermen who are expected to be the mayor’s largest critics this term, were pleased with the route the mayor chose for his speech.
A new member to the council and progressive caucus, David Moore (17), said it’s not that the mayor doesn’t care about pensions, but that Emanuel realizes “our youth is our most important asset.”
“If our youth are in trouble, then whether the pension crisis is solved or what, then Chicago is in trouble,” Moore said.
Northside Alderman Joe Moore (49) said while it’s true “everyone” was expecting to hear more about the city’s finances, “one issue is not necessarily to the exclusion of others.”
Plus, he added: “Trust me, we’re gonna spend all summer hearing a lot about finances and a lot about how serious our fiscal crisis is.”
The new city council will meet for the first time on Wednesday.
Lauren Chooljian is a WBEZ city politics reporter. Follow her @laurenchooljian.