It's a great pleasure for me to be here this evening. I'm pleased to have the opportunity to see so many old friends from the Latin Labor and Business Committee and from the Latin community in Chicago. And I am deeply honored to be chosen for your Annual Humanitarian Award. I accept it with gratitude and with humility.
And it is a pleasure, as always, to return to Chicago. I come here always with a sense of coming home to a city and a community that I love. I spent fifteen years in Chicago before I left to join the administration of John F. Kennedy. So I will always remember this city with a feeling of warmth and friendship, and I am delighted to have this opportunity to return.
Actually, President Kennedy had to use the severest form of persuasion to convince me to leave here in 1961. I remember when he called me up and asked me to join his new Administration. He said: "Sarge, I want you to come to Washington and run the Peace Corps." And I said: "I don't know anything about how to run a Peace Corps." And the President replied: "Neither does anyone else. And everybody tells me the thing is going to be a big flop. And if it is, I'm going to have to fire the Peace Corps Director. And it's easier to fire a relative than a political appointee. So I want you to come along and take the job."
So, I served as the Director of the Peace Corps, and later as the head of the Office of. Economic Opportunity. And I don’t think either of those was a flop. I consider myself indeed fortunate to have served under two Democratic administrations and in the Federal government at a time when it was trying to do something for the people, not to the people. I think it is that kind of spirit that motivates all of you here tonight, and for that reason I am proud to stand with you.
When Jack (Terrazas) wrote me in July to ask if I could attend tonight, I was a lawyer in private practice in Washington. My life has changed a bit since then ... I'm now running for the Democratic nomination to be President of the United States.
I don't intend to give a long political speech here tonight. And I don't intend to give you a long list of the failures of leadership at the Federal level today. I think you know those failures, because they affect your everyday lives.
But I do want to say that I see hope in America, and I have faith in the American people. I don’t pretend to have all the answers. I don't say that the solutions are easy, or that all our efforts will be crowned with success. But we can find answers to our national problems if we are guided by some common vision of where we want to go and by a community of purpose. I believe, in short, that we can create a new "Allianza Para Progresso" here in our own country as well as abroad. And I am setting out now to do just that.
The irony of America today is that we have everything to achieve our objectives: we have the people and the resources -- no nation has freer, better people, or richer natural resources -- we have the highest political, religious, and philosophical traditions; we have everything we need today ... but leadership...
There are some who ask me "Why do you think you should be President when no one has elected you to anything before?" It's a legitimate question.
My answer is: Leadership in America can no longer be left to those who have had the opportunity to lead and failed. Today, ideas and experience in making them work are far more important than political pedigree -- and political debts. I think I can bring to the Presidency not only the experience of thirty years as an executive at all levels of private and public life but also a healthy skepticism about the role and capacity of government. No poll can prove this, but I am convinced that people's cynicism about politicians rises and falls with the politician's cynicism about the people. Well, I'm not a cynic.
I look forward to a people's campaign. From my experience I know it is vital to do as much listening as talking, as much questioning as answering. As my campaign progresses, I will address the major issues confronting America today and in its future. But I will want to know your problems, your ideas, and your hopes.
Many of you were not born in America; others among you have parents who came to this country. And all of you know that America is no bed of roses. But you are here because this is the country of hope. Many Americans have forgotten hope; I want to rekindle hope.
Con fe, y unidos combiaremos el presente, y lo graremos un futuro sano y seguro para nuestros hijos. Juntos podemos mejorar nuestro destino.
Thank your for your award, which I will cherish, and for your presence here tonight. I hope to see all of you many times in the future.