Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley stressed the strength and vitality of the greater Chicago area in a speech Thursday at Wheaton College.
"It's not just Chicago itself," he said, playing to his suburban audience. "It's the region."
In his wordsChicago Mayor Richard M. Daley got a few unconventional questions during his appearance at Wheaton College on Thursday, but his answers showed he knows how to win over a crowd.
On his opinion of Bears quarterback Jay Cutler:
"I get beaten up just like Jay, so I understand what he's going through. Just don't take it personal."
On advice for successor Rahm Emanuel:
"I never give anyone advice unless they ask for it."
On advice from his dad, former Mayor Richard J. Daley:
"My dad said you never get jealous about what someone else has. In government, that's where you go astray."
Speaking largely off the cuff but from an outline, Daley filled the Barrows Auditorium at the college's Billy Graham Center with students, faculty and members of the public, and won a standing ovation when his 45-minute talk was done.
Daley, who leaves office May 16 after a life devoted to public service, spoke fondly of Chicago, saying the city owes its vigor to its ability to adapt.
"Chicago's always changing," he said. "What happens to cities is they get caught in the past."
Daley cited the creation of the Metropolitan Mayors Caucus, involving mayors from across the region, as a particular source of pride in ending the thinking that the city and suburbs were separate. "We started working together, and we had great success stories," he said. "That was the idea. We're coming here as elected officials, not just Democrats and Republicans.
"We realize in the long run we all have to exist together," Daley said. "What's good for Wheaton is good for Chicago. And what's good for Chicago is good for Wheaton.
"We're always changing, but we're never afraid of change," he said. "As a region, we're competing."
Daley said education and transportation are cornerstones of the area's economic and cultural foundation, adding, "The failure of major cities has always been the lack of a good, quality education." He called education "the answer to all the social ills," foremost among them crime. But education's also the key to continued economic development, such as Chicago acting as a "gateway" for economic investment and tourism from China, joined by transportation, including the region's status as a freight hub.
Daley granted that the ongoing expansion of O'Hare International Airport is a contentious issue in many suburbs and something that had to be placed on the back burner for the Metropolitan Mayors Caucus to succeed. He said it began in spirit of, "let's set that aside so we can all come together."
Yet, he said the O'Hare expansion is key to the area's economic development, now and in the future.
"I think the future is bright," Daley said, "not just for Chicago, but the region."
"We have to have confidence. We've become a culture of whiners," he added, drawing laughter from the audience. "We have to have confidence that we can compete with people if we all sacrifice a little bit for the common good. If we do that we can compete with any nation."
He warned, however, that government has to learn to live within its means. "The cost of government is going up faster than the cost you can bear in your pocketbook."
Daley said he's working toward a smooth transition to new Mayor Rahm Emanuel after serving 22 years in office.
"I have no regrets," he said. "I haven't missed anything. I've enjoyed public service."
After his speech, Daley answered a few pre-submitted questions from students and faculty, then went on to attend a fundraising dinner for the J. Dennis Hastert Center of Economics, Government and Public Policy at the school's Todd M. Beamer Student Center.
In fact, Hastert, the former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives from Plano, introduced Daley as "my good friend," saying, "There was no equal to this gentleman in being able to look at what was good for the greater area. ... I felt the same thing. What was good in many cases for Chicago was good for northern Illinois."