Public Relations Writing: Lesson #12 - p. 4

Speechwriting (continued)

Here are a set of bullet points for Mayor Harold Washington's rallying speech to celebrate "The New Spirit of Chicago." When Mayor Washington was required to read a speech – for example, the "State of the City" or his Inaugural Address – the event lacked the supercharged exuberance of his oratorical skills. But when he spoke "off the cuff" he usually had a set of bullet points like those reproduced here, from a speech he gave toward the end of his first term.

Much of the rhetoric was from the Mayor's off-the-cuff comments. I would write down some of his more memorable quips, and work them into the speech. It's always a good idea to use the real language of whomever you're writing for. In particular, after each of the five major points, I tried to use his own colorful language to summarize each point.

Usually his remarks were not this long and would perhaps have included just a single page of bullets. Even though this speech is built on five points, I still believe a good speech should be limited to only three major points. But this example shows that even a long, detailed speech, filled with facts, can be – and should be – supported by bullet points, not paragraphs.

Accompanying these bullet points was a long formal text that filled several pages. He might have read that over at home, but he never took it with him when he went to speak. Instead, he would simply look down at a bullet like "$168 mil. deficit inherited," get the point at a glance, and then speak his mind.

He appreciated what I called a "mindset" – a one-line thought that summed it all up – as well as a paragraph that laid out the "message."

Every time Mayor Washington gave this speech, he added to it from events of the day, and other concerns that were on people's minds. So it became a fresh, unique speech every time he used these bullets. But it always had a unity and integrity of thought, because the bullets provided a solid framework on which he could hang anything he pleased. During the period when it was his "stump speech," he also used it as a guide when he did radio programs and interviews.


Mindset: We inherited a mess, but now Chicago Works – Together!

Message: When we came to office, Chicago was in serious trouble; city finances were a mess, corruption was rampant, the neighborhoods were struggling with neglect, and the big downtown projects were dying on the drawing board. Worst of all, the city had a world-wide reputation as a segregated, hate-filled city that fights. We turned it around. Now Chicago is once again the City that Works – TOGETHER!

1. We inherited a financial mess

  • $168 mil. deficit inherited
  • schools had gone bankrupt, Cgo Housing Authority in decline
  • revenue collections were haphazard
  • "Chicago was just about to see its bond rating decline"

What did we do about it?

  • immediately reduced city workforce by 3,000 jobs
  • ultimately reduced city workforce by a total of 8,000 jobs
  • passed surplus budgets – three in a row
  • city-wide management plan: first Chicago's ever had
  • began first computerization of Chicago departments – including
    • Purchasing Department computer systems
    • Law Department database
    • Parking violations database

    "For the first time in this decade, Chicago is no longer in the red"
    "For the first time in this decade, Chicago's bond rating has gone up – to an 'A' rating – our 'seal of approval' from Wall Street."

2. We inherited a legacy of corruption

  • Everyone remembers "the Machine" – and "Chicago ain't ready for reform"
  • Chicago was a hotbed of patronage politics, a national joke
  • "The fix was in, contracts were crooked, corruption was rampant"
  • "You travel around the world, people say, 'Oh, yeah, Chicago -
  • Al Capone, rat-a-tat-tat.'"

What did we do about it?

  • Set the example by refusing campaign contributions
  • Issued executive order to enforce ethics in government
  • Passed the first ethics ordinance (after gaining control of City Council)
  • Reformed collection and accounting and purchasing procedures
  • Reformed the Law Department

    "We killed the old patronage system – it's dead, dead, dead!"...
    "We had the courage to take a government of deals and replace it with a government of ideals."

3. We inherited a tradition of neighborhood neglect

  • When we took office, neighborhoods in decline
  • Average of 4,000 housing units lost each year: boarded up
  • Many roadways, alleys, etc., had never been completely surfaced
  • Many neighborhoods got poor service: snow plowing, potholes, clogged sewers, you name it.

What did we do about it?
  • Neighborhoods given equal priority with downtown interests
  • Housing especially: trend reversed – total of 18,000 new units
  • Federal funds steered to poorer neighborhoods for repairs
  • For neighborhood safety, police foot patrols restored
  • $300 million bond program for repair - equally in all 50 wards

    "Chicago is once again a city of neighborhoods – neighborhoods we can be proud of ...
    "When it's all said and done, if you can't be secure in your own neighborhood, what kind of a city do you have?"

4. We inherited downtown projects that were dead on the drawing board

  • Caring about the 'hoods doesn't mean turning our backs on the Loop
  • Projects in the North Loop were stalled, due to the recession
  • Attitude of pessimism in the business community

What did we do about it?

  • Brought business and government together for concerted planning
  • $300 million bond program brought many infrastructure repairs to Loop
  • Signed Chicago's biggest single contract ever, for O'Hare "People Mover"
  • Civic projects included:
    • Major business development in Loop, north of Loop, west of Loop
    • New central library in the South Loop
    • New sports stadiums
    • McCormick Place annex
    • Work started on southwest rapid transit line
    • O'Hare Airport expansion, world's greatest airport expansion project

    "Chicago experienced its greatest renaissance since the Great Fire of 1871; more than $10 billion in city development."...
    "Don't worry about those who complain that there's too much fighting and not enough work being done... when politicians stop arguing, you better zip up your wallet."

5. We inherited a reputation for unfairness and inequality

  • Chicago had been called "the nation's most segregated city."
  • Bitter, divisive 1983 mayoral race – full of antagonism
  • Contracts, jobs, appointments went dispropotionately to white males
  • Government conducted in secret, by "old boys network"

What did we do about it?

  • Signed Freedom of Information executive order: government in the light
  • Opened up budget process to neighborhood public hearings
  • Signed fair collective bargaining agreements with city workers
  • Guaranteed Latinos, blacks, Asians, women, other minorities fair share
  • Insured small business ability to compete with big out-of-town firms

    "Fair competitive bidding, and opening up the process, saved Chicago milions of dollars – est. $24.3 in 1987 alone."
    "Goals of 25 percent for minorities and 5 percent for women-owned businesses were met and exceeded."

Summary: When we came to office, Chicago was in serious trouble

  • city finances were a mess,
  • corruption was rampant,
  • the neighborhoods were struggling with neglect, and
  • the big downtown projects were dying on the drawing board. Worst of all,
  • the city had a world-wide reputation as a segregated, hate-filled city that does nothing but fight.
We turned it around.
Chicago is once again the City that Works – TOGETHER!

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