The new year has ushered in unwelcome news for Naperville’s longtime mayor A. George Pradel, who revealed Monday that his wife of nearly 54 years, Pat Pradel, is fighting bone cancer.
So it was that the phrase “in sickness and in health” found its way into Pradel’s 19th annual State of the City address.
“As I told her all those years (ago), I will always be there for her, and I will be by her side as we face this challenge together,” said Pradel, reporting that Pat remained hospitalized following last week’s diagnosis.
With the news of that misfortune broken, the mayor — sporting the tuxedo and top hat that comprise his signature attire for the yearly report on the city’s well-being — launched into a speech before the Naperville Area Chamber of Commerce and guests that spotlighted a successful, prosperous and lucky 2013.
“My badge number as a Naperville police officer was 13,” Pradel said. “After 13 years on the force, I was promoted to sergeant. And once I became a lieutenant, my new call number was 113.
“So I asked a few of my friends to help me count down the 13 reasons why 2013 was such a great year for Naperville.”
A series of video clips featuring community members ran down a dozen positive developments logged by the city last year.
“And the number-one reason is teamwork!” Pradel said to finish up the segment.
Among the highlights cited in the 40-minute address were last spring’s decision by the City Council to speed up the paydown of the city’s public safety pension shortfall by earmarking 25 percent of the revenue from the municipal food and beverage tax each year to go to the retirement fund. The council also channeled $6 million in surplus revenue from the 2013 budget to the pension deficit.
“This decision is expected to save the city $25 million in the long run,” Pradel said, adding that it also will bring the fund to full solvency by 2027, six years ahead of the previous timetable.
The trio of primary strategic goals chosen by the Council last year was another point of pride for the city’s top office holder: reducing traffic congestion, becoming a top e-government innovator, and setting the standard for community education and involvement, including the new Naper Notify communication network.
“This notification system lets people receive emergency and community information on the device of their choosing,” Pradel said.
The city also added $795,000 to its program for preventing sewer backups last year, after hundreds of residents reported basement flooding in the wake of extraordinary rainfall in mid-April that closed bridges, roads and schools. Scheduling for the project bringing new lining to the sanitary sewer in the particularly flood-prone Cress Creek neighborhood was accelerated in response to the floods as well.
The mayor tipped his hat to department heads and other city employees, too.
“They are the people who fix broken water pipes in subzero temperatures. They run into burning buildings. They patrol our neighborhoods, keeping them safe,” he said. “They plow and salt our roads during snowstorms. They make sure the lights stay on.”
The city has maintained its triple-A bond rating from Moody’s and Standard and Poors for the past 18 years, Pradel noted.
“The agencies continue to say we have a well-managed and solid financial outlook,” he said.
Monday’s bitterly cold temperatures were no deterrent for those who had reserved spots at the luncheon. The yearly look back drew about 450 people, including state legislators, members of the DuPage and Will County Boards, political candidates and representatives from area civic organizations and nonprofits, in addition to Chamber members.
“Naperville is a community of partnerships, and that’s evident in this room right now,” said recently hired Chamber President and CEO Nicki Anderson.
Pradel, who has said he will not seek another term when his current one ends next year, told a visitor he doesn’t suffer the jitters before delivering the yearly verbal report card to hundreds of local movers and shakers.
“I just want everybody to feel comfortable and to have a good time,” he said. “Because it’s these people who work so hard together to make this the wonderful community it is.”