Jane Byrne

Not sure if anyone outside of Chicago saw the news, but our only female mayor ever  died at age 81.  She was mayor during the  mid 1970s.  She  followed Richard J. Daley, the noted mayor who got John Kennedy elected president by a little flim-flamming (when asked, by a reporter, why one candidate won an election, his response was, “He got more votes.”  whadya think?) and  was famous for saying,  (regarding the 1968 Dem convention riots), “The police are not there to create disorder, they are there to maintain disorder.”

What actually happened was that Richard J. Daley died in office. He had appointed Jane Byrne commissioner of consumer affairs. Our aldermen  voted  Michael Bilandic (another alderman, I guess the guy who stunk the least) in.  He—and the other alderman  got their panties in a bunch over Jane Byrne allowing the cab drivers to raise their rates. Bilandic fired her, then  we had a really bad winter with a lot 0f snow, and he wasn’t  able to manage to get  the streets plowed.  Jane Byrne having been   commissioner of consumer affairs for the city (sort of in charge of business licenses…not really all that controversial), and she managed to get  press and financial backing to beat Bilandic.

She  sort of promoted herself as a reformer, and, considering the sexism  at the time, along with the political machine, she  was able to do some things.  She started Chicagofest, and the  renovation of Navy Pier (a HUGE tourist attraction in Chicago), as well as other community festivals. She  moved into  a dangerous public housing high rise (albeit only for 3 weeks, but it sent a message) and  promoted  the filming of movies in Chicago—generating hundreds if not thousands of jobs (the Blues Brothers movie was filmed in Chicago).  Ultimately, she did not reach out enough.  Bunch of stuff happened. Harold Washington, a former state senator, decided to run for mayor, and he did have a coalition of Blacks, Hispanics, and Lakefront Liberals, was a true progressive, and was a much warmer personality than Jane Byrne.  Plus, a few racists got involved, which split the white vote.  Washington was able to  institute some progressive reforms regarding hiring in the city.

Nobody, however, was able to  stem the huge school drop-out rate, or kids testing below grade level. Some blame the  unions, I blame the schools of education that have  people major in education and minor in the subject they  want to teach (not vice versa)—or a school board that ignores your area of expertise and tells you  that if you want a job, you teach something you have no interest in teaching….as well as hiring teachers who disrespect minority students.  All that is another issue.

The importance of Jane Byrne  was that she was a tough broad who  bucked the system and  managed to get things done.  She was a great role model, even just as a public image.


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