Speech: A Fresh Start for South Bend

A Fresh Start for South Bend

Delivered January 29, 2011


Thank you for joining us this morning to launch our campaign to bring a fresh start to our city.

I am delighted to announce that on Monday, I will go to the County Clerk’s office and file paperwork to formally become a candidate for mayor of South Bend.

I’m running because South Bend needs a fresh start, and because I have the energy, the education, and the experience to get the job done.

Just last week, South Bend appeared on a national ranking of dying cities. South Bend is not dying. The report was based on sloppy methodology, and it was unfair to our city.

But while we may not accept that judgment, we cannot just ignore it either. This is not an occasion for denial, it is a call to action.

We’ve got to act.

We cannot rest until we have brought about a day when no one would even think of putting us on a list like that. A day when more young people move here than move away. A day when cities imitate South Bend’s success in overcoming the economic blows of the past and building a prosperous future for all citizens.

I’m running because I can see that brighter future. I can see a South Bend with the reputation of a cool little city, open for business and known for innovation and livability and diversity and friendliness. A dynamic, small Midwestern city.

We have everything we need to make this happen. We have world-class universities. A unique location for logistics and transportation. A low cost of living. A tradition of hard work. And a culture of caring about each other and the community around us.

These are priceless, and they are the building blocks to create that more prosperous future. To paraphrase President Clinton, there is nothing that is wrong with South Bend that cannot be fixed by what is right with South Bend.

And the time to act is now.

Some have said that it’s too soon for me. I need to wait my turn, wait in line, wait till I’m older.

But in my experience, waiting is almost never the right answer for dealing with big problems, and my generation should not wait to be part of the solution.

My generation’s innovators did not wait till they were old enough to create, to achieve things like the invention of Facebook before they were even out of college.

My generation of service members did not get to wait till they were old enough to bear the brunt of two wars. One weekend a month, when I go up to the base to do my small part in the Navy reserve, I sometimes find myself the oldest guy in the room.

In fact, it’s always been this way. My grandfather’s generation became the Greatest Generation when many of them were still teenagers. My parents’ generation was closer to the age of twenty than thirty when they brought about the civil rights movement.

My generation is inspired by those who came before, who built this city in the spirit of innovation and forward thinking.

We live in a city settled by a 33-year old fur trader named Pierre Navarre, enriched by a 28-year old frontier priest named Father Sorin, and modernized by a 26-year-old blacksmith named Henry Studebaker.

They did not wait till they were old enough to build South Bend and better it, which is why you’re looking at a 29-year old businessman who thinks our challenges cannot wait for new solutions.

We cannot wait for action to strengthen our local economy. Over the last several weeks I’ve visited dozens of businesspeople who are eager to grow and looking for partnerships with the city. I met with a clean energy company that cannot wait to relocate inside the city limits, and spent time with workers who cannot wait for new opportunities at good-paying, hard work.

It’s time to give these employers and workers the best possible economic environment. To simplify the process for businesses willing to create jobs here. To reach out across the country and around the world to aggressively recruit new employers and talent.

We cannot wait for schools to get better on their own. I’ve spoken with teachers, administrators, and parents who know their kids’ potential, and employers who know that the education of our work force is key to their success. They cannot wait for the city to engage in new partnerships to strengthen education through focused safety improvements, after school efforts, and greater leadership on citywide educational issues.

We cannot wait for a cutting-edge, transparent city administration that works for us. I’ve sought out experts and officials from cities around the country, learning how to implement solutions like a 311 line so you can get answers on any city issue from a one-stop phone number, or an online budget dashboard that lets any citizen with a computer find out how their tax dollars are being spent. The technology for this already exists, and I cannot wait for a chance to deploy it so we can join the ranks of the most advanced cities in America.

We cannot wait to find new ways to make our neighborhoods as safe and secure as possible. I’ve talked to beat cops and community organizers who are working day in day out to treat not just the symptoms but also the causes of crime. We must empower them with the tools they need, and do something about vacant homes that destroy property values and invite crime. 

We cannot wait to form connections to the wider region and world that will make all of this possible. We need dynamic leadership that knows how to connect us to the rest of the region, the state, and the world, to create opportunities and put our city on the international map.

Our city may never again see the population we had fifty years ago. But we don’t have to. We don’t need to get bigger. We just need to move faster.

We need action. And when it comes to getting the job done, I am the candidate with the right experience to make it happen.

I’m the only candidate with experience working on billion-dollar decisions, helping to turn around major companies around the country and the world. I’m the only candidate who has not only an economics degree but on-the-ground experience doing economic development for a living, in the toughest neighborhoods in the world—Baghdad, Kabul, Jalalabad. And I know I can put that experience to use here in South Bend.

I’m not an incumbent, not the product of any political machine. I am a product of South Bend. I love reminding people that you can step out on my front porch, and even though you can’t see Russia, you can see across the St. Joe River to Memorial Hospital where I opened my eyes for the first time.

I grew up on the South Bend White Sox, the Parkovash sledding hill, the St. Joseph County Public Library, the Leeper Park duck pond, the Riverside trail, Notre Dame Stadium, the Ice Box, Turner’s soccer and the St. Joe River.

This place made me and it’s in me, as I learned when school and work took me far from home. When I was in England the rain never seemed to fall hard enough because it was missing the gush of a South Bend summer storm. When I was in Chicago the winter didn’t seem convincing enough because there was none of that lake effect snow that we gripe about to each other, but brag about to anyone not from here.

This place made me, and gave me the upbringing I needed to succeed in education and business. That’s why I live in the same neighborhood where I grew up. And that’s why I want to lead South Bend’s comeback. I cannot wait.

And I can’t wait to officially start campaigning, which is why I’m heading out this afternoon to start knocking on doors. I’ll walk this city for the next 93 days, engaging in the give and take that makes our system of politics what it is.

Each passing day, each person I speak with—from the great-grandmother who told me about the days when the far West Side was muck-land and Joey Kernan was her paperboy to the young accountant from upstate New York who told me about how much she and her friends look forward to business travel here so they can go to our locally owned shops and restaurants—convinces me of the promise of our city.

When it comes to fulfilling that promise, let’s not wait one more day.

Thank you for your support.