|40th Mayor of Chicago|
April 16, 1979 - April 29, 1983
|Born||Jane Margaret Burke
May 24, 1933
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
|Died||November 14, 2014
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
|Resting place||Interment Calvary Cemetery
|Spouse(s)||William R. Byrne
(m. 1956; d. 1959)
(m. 1978; d. 1992)
|Children||Katherine C. Byrne|
|Alma mater||St. Mary of the Woods
Jane Margaret Byrne (née Burke; May 24, 1933 - November 14, 2014) was an American politician who served as the 40th Mayor of Chicago from April 16, 1979, until April 29, 1983. Byrne won the Chicago mayoral election on April 3, 1979, becoming the first female mayor of Chicago, the second largest city in the United States at the time. It was also the largest U.S. city to have had a female mayor. Prior to her tenure as mayor, Byrne served as commissioner of Chicago's consumer affairs department from 1968 until 1977, which made her the first woman to be a part of then-mayor Richard J. Daley's cabinet.
Byrne was born Jane Margaret Burke on May 24, 1933, at John B. Murphy Hospital in the Lake View neighborhood on the north side of Chicago, Illinois, to Katherine Marie Burke (née Nolan), a housewife, and Edward Patrick Burke, vice president of Inland Steel. Raised on the city's north side, Byrne graduated from Saint Scholastica High School and attended St. Mary of the Woods for her freshman year of college. Byrne later transferred to Barat College, where she graduated with a bachelor's degree in chemistry and biology in 1965. Byrne entered politics to volunteer in John F. Kennedy's campaign for president in 1960. During that campaign she first met then Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley. After meeting Daley, he appointed her to several positions beginning in 1964 with a job in the city's Head Start program. In June 1965, she was promoted and worked with the Chicago Committee of Urban Opportunity. In 1968, Byrne was appointed head of the City of Chicago's consumer affairs department. In 1972, Byrne served as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention (DNC) and chairperson of the DNC resolutions committee in 1973. Byrne was appointed co-chairperson of the Cook County Democratic Central Committee by Daley, despite her rejection by the majority of Democratic leaders, in 1975. The committee ousted Byrne shortly after Daley's death in late 1976. Shortly thereafter, Byrne accused the newly appointed mayor Michael Bilandic of being unfair to citizens of the city by placing a 12% increase on cab fare, which Byrne felt was the result of a "backroom deal". Byrne was fired from her post of head of consumer affairs by Bilandic shortly after he was made aware of her charges against him in April 1977.
Months after her firing as head of the consumer affairs department, Byrne challenged Bilandic in the 1979 Democratic mayoral primary; the real contest in this heavily Democratic city. Officially announcing her mayoral campaign in August 1977, Byrne partnered with Chicago journalist and political consultant Don Rose, who served as her campaign manager. At first, political observers believed her to have little chance of winning. A memorandum inside the Bilandic campaign said it should portray her as, "a shrill, charging, vindictive person--and nothing makes a woman look worse." However, the Chicago Blizzard of 1979 in January paralyzed the city and caused Bilandic to be seen as an ineffective leader. Jesse Jackson endorsed Byrne. Many Republican voters voted in the Democratic primary to beat Bilandic. Infuriated voters in the North Side and Northwest Side retaliated against Bilandic for the Democratic Party's slating of only South Side candidates for the mayor, clerk, and treasurer (the outgoing city clerk, John C. Marcin, was from the Northwest Side). These four factors combined to give Byrne a 51% to 49% victory over Bilandic in the primary. Positioning herself as a reformer, Byrne then won the general election with 82% of the vote, still the largest margin in a Chicago mayoral election.
Byrne made inclusive moves as mayor, such as hiring the first African-American and female school superintendent Ruth B. Love, and she was the first mayor to recognize the gay community. In her first three months in office, she faced strikes by labor unions as the city's transit workers, public school teachers and firefighters all went on strike. She effectively banned handgun possession for guns unregistered or purchased after the enactment of an ordinance instituting a two-year re-registration program. Byrne used special events, such as ChicagoFest, to revitalize Navy Pier and the downtown Chicago Theatre. Byrne and the Cook County Democratic Party endorsed Senator Edward Kennedy for president in 1980, but incumbent President Jimmy Carter won the Illinois Democratic Primary and even carried Cook County and the city of Chicago. Simultaneously, Byrne and the Cook County Democratic Party's candidate for Cook County States' Attorney (chief local prosecutor), 14th Ward Alderman Edward M. Burke, lost in the Democratic Primary to Richard M. Daley, the son of her late mentor; Daley then unseated GOP incumbent Bernard Carey in the general election.
On November 11, 1981, Dan Goodwin, who had successfully climbed the Sears Tower the previous spring, battled for his life on the side of the John Hancock Center. William Blair, Chicago's fire commissioner, had ordered the Chicago Fire Department to stop Goodwin by directing a full-power fire hose at him and by using fire axes to break window glass in Goodwin's path. Mayor Byrne rushed to the scene and ordered the fire department to stand down. Then, through a smashed out 38th floor window, she told Goodwin, who was hanging from the building's side a floor below, that though she did not agree with his climbing of the John Hancock Center, she certainly opposed the fire department knocking him to the ground below. Byrne then allowed Goodwin to continue to the top. In 1982, she supported the Cook County Democratic Party's replacement of its chairman, County Board President George Dunne, with her city-council ally, Alderman Edward Vrdolyak. The Chicago Sun Times reported that her enemies publicly mocked her as "that crazy broad" and "that skinny bitch" and worse.
In January 1982, Byrne proposed a ordinance banning of new handgun registration which was considered controversial. The ordinance was created to put a freeze on the number of legally owned handguns in Chicago and to require owners of handguns to re-register them annually. The ordinance was approved by a 6-1 vote in February 1982.
On March 26, 1981, Byrne decided to move into and "cleanup" the crime-ridden Cabrini-Green Homes housing project on the near-north side of the Chicago after 37 shootings resulting in 11 murders occurred during a three-month period from January to March 1981. In her 2004 memoir, Byrne reflected about decision to move into Cabrini-Green:
"How could I put Cabrini on a bigger map?" "Suddenly I knew -- I could move in there."
Prior to her move to Cabrini, Byrne closed down several liquor stores in the area; citing the stores as hangout for gangs and murderers. Byrne also ordered the Chicago Housing Authority to evict tenants who were suspected of harboring gang members in their apartments; which totalled approximately 800 tenants. Byrne moved into a 4th floor apartment in a Cabrini extension building on North Sedgwick Avenue with her husband on March 31 at around 8:30 pm after attending a dinner at the Conrad Hilton hotel. Hours after Byrne moved into the housing project, Police raided building and arrested eleven street gang members who they learned through informants that they were planning to have a shootout in the mayor's building later that evening. Byrne described her first night there "lovely" and "very quiet". Byrne stayed at the housing project for three weeks to bring attention to the project's issues such as murders, rapes and robberies. Byrne's stay at Cabrini ended on April 18, 1981 following an Easter celebrating at the project which drew protests and demonstrations who claimed Byrne's move to the project was just a publicity stunt. It was said that Byrne frequently visited the housing project after her initial stay throughout her mayoral term.
In August 1982, Byrne decided that she would seek a second term as mayor. At the beginning of her re-election campaign, she was trailing behind Richard M. Daley, then Cook County State's Attorney, by 3% in a poll done by the Chicago Tribune in July 1982. Unlike the 1979 mayoral in which Byrne received 59.3% of the African-American vote, Byrne had lost half of that vote for her lack of promoting and appointing African-Americans in top city positions.
Byrne was narrowly defeated in the 1983 Democratic primary for mayor by Harold Washington; the younger Daley ran a close third. Washington won the Democratic primary with just 36% of the vote; Byrne had 33%. Washington went on to win the general election.
Byrne ran against Washington again in the 1987 Democratic primary, but was narrowly defeated. She endorsed Washington for the general election, in which he defeated two Democrats running under other parties' banners (Edward Vrdolyak and Thomas Hynes) and a Republican. Byrne next ran in the 1988 Democratic primary for Cook County Circuit Court Clerk. She faced the Democratic Party's slated candidate, Aurelia Pucinski (who was endorsed by Mayor Washington and is the daughter of then-Alderman Roman Pucinski). Pucinski defeated Byrne in the primary and Vrdolyak, by then a Republican, in the general election. Byrne's fourth run for mayor involved a rematch against Daley in 1991. Byrne received only 5.9 percent of the vote, a distant third behind Daley and Alderman Danny K. Davis.
In 1956, she married William P. Byrne, a Marine. The couple had a daughter, Katherine C. Byrne (born 1957). On May 31, 1959, while flying from Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point to Naval Air Station Glenview in a Skyraider, Lt. Byrne attempted to land in a dense fog. After being waved off for landing twice, his plane's wing struck the porch of a nearby house and the plane crashed into Sunset Memorial Park, killing him. Byrne married journalist Jay McMullen in 1978, and they remained married until his death from lung cancer in 1992. Byrne lived in the same apartment building from the 1970s until her death in 2014. She has one grandchild, Willie. Her daughter, Kathy, is a lawyer with a Chicago firm. Mayor Byrne's book, My Chicago (ISBN 0-8101-2087-9), was published in 1992, and covers her life through her political career. On May 16, 2011, Byrne attended the inauguration of the city's new mayor, Rahm Emanuel.
Byrne had entered hospice care and died on November 14, 2014 in Chicago, aged 81, from complications of a stroke she suffered in January 2013. She was survived by her daughter Katherine and her grandson Willie. Her funeral Mass was held at St. Vincent de Paul on Monday, November 17, 2014. She was buried at Interment Calvary Cemetery in Evanston, Illinois. In a dedication ceremony held on August 29, 2014, Governor Pat Quinn renamed the Circle Interchange in Chicago the Jane Byrne Interchange. In July 2014, the Chicago City Council voted to rename the plaza surrounding the historic Chicago Water Tower on North Michigan Avenue the Jane M. Byrne Plaza in her honor.