The following prepared remarks are from South Bend Mayor James Mueller’s inauguration speech.
My fellow residents:
As a native son of South Bend, I am truly humbled by and grateful for your trust to serve as the 33rd Mayor of my hometown.
In our next chapter, I look forward to uniting our community around a common purpose. One not yet realized in our 155-year history: establishing South Bend as a home where everyone can thrive. To get there, we will need to join together and seek to understand our differences as never before.
During our rich history, we’ve been a booming industrial city, a regional leader. And we’ve been a city in decline. Declining rust belt city is the South Bend many of us have known for most of our lifetimes. When I was growing up, success was synonymous with getting out. As the youngest of five, I watched my family and friends pursue opportunities elsewhere because there were not enough opportunities here. Now, after many decades since Studebaker closed, we’ve finally turned the corner. And South Bend is back on a positive trajectory.
On behalf of our City, I thank my predecessor, Mayor Pete, for leading us through our comeback decade. And to Mayors Lloyd Allen and Jerry Miller, the original Mayor Pete (Nemeth), Mayor Roger Parent, Governor Joe Kernan, and Mayor Steve Luecke who all set the table for our comeback, along the way making South Bend icons like the East Race, Century Center, Coveleski Stadium, Blackthorn, South Shore, Eddy Street Commons, and Ignition Park.
It’s been a long journey, and we cannot forget how hard-fought our turnaround has been. We cannot take our modest growth for granted — or rest on our laurels. Now is no time for complacency.
We must continue to support growth aggressively and pursue more public-private partnerships. While the macroeconomy will be largely out of our control — and may even prove to be a headwind in the coming years — we must continue to take full advantage of our opportunities, no matter what the economy brings.
But even during the best of times in our history, not everyone shared in our progress. Both intentional and unintentional actions separated us, blocking too many from opportunity. That legacy still haunts us today, in our segregated neighborhoods, schools, and pathways to economic opportunity – and by the systemic barriers that persist to this very day.
To realize a South Bend where everyone can thrive, we must start with an honest account of where we are so that we know what will be required of us to get to where we want to be. To achieve racial, economic and intergenerational justice, we must first acknowledge inconvenient truths such as the existence of systemic racism, climate change, and limitations within our free markets. The invisible hand of the marketplace cannot achieve social justice alone. Only in conjunction with bold, deliberate public action can South Bend become a place where everyone can thrive.
Diversity makes us stronger — but only if accompanied by inclusion. It takes a lot of work to understand our differences and move forward together. But that’s what we must do.
Compromise is the bedrock of our inclusive, pluralist democracy. And it is our only successful path forward. We must build the broadest coalitions possible. But the perfect cannot stand in the way of real progress, however imperfect or incomplete.
The following anecdote from my time working in the US Senate offers a governing lesson that I learned early in my career and bring with me now. I was proud to help craft bipartisan climate change legislation during President Obama’s first term. Some environmental groups attacked it at the time for not phasing in carbon limits fast enough. Yet here we are more than ten years later. We’re still debating impractical solutions without a broad consensus and have made little to no progress in the meantime. We’ll never get to where we want to go if we don’t get started. Once we have a consensus on where to go, let’s take steps in that direction, united together, however small or large those steps may be.
Our ambitions have grown over the years. We are now a city who believes in itself once again. We believe that we can accomplish big things – that no challenge is too great to overcome and a better tomorrow is not only possible but likely if we work on solutions together.
Over the past year, I heard the call to build on our progress, take our growth to the next level and make systemic changes that empower everyone to thrive. I cannot answer this call alone. No mayor can. I need all of your help.
With that I humbly ask, will you help us create an innovative local economy that works for everyone? Will you help us rebuild our neighborhoods, block by block? Will you help us strengthen our education system from cradle to career to set up every child for success? Will you help us recruit more officers from our community and establish greater trust in our public safety systems? Will you roll up your sleeves with me – and build the South Bend we know we can be?
I’m excited by the possibilities for our next chapter. But make no mistake. It will rarely be easy. Our success will depend entirely on whether we can have honest conversations and unite around our common purpose.
I firmly believe that this will be the best chapter of our story yet. If you are as excited about this future as I am, I have a simple request: let’s write this next chapter together and make our home a place where everyone can thrive. Thank you.