Jane Byrne

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Jane Margaret Byrne
Jane Byrne.jpg
50th Mayor of Chicago
In office
April 16, 1979 – April 29, 1983
Preceded by Michael A. Bilandic
Succeeded by Harold Washington
Personal details
Born Jane Margaret Burke
(1934-05-24) May 24, 1934 (age 80)
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) William Byrne (m. 1956–59)
Jay McMullen (m. 1978–92)
Children Katherine C. Byrne
Residence Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
Alma mater St. Scholastica Academy
Barat College[1]
Religion Roman Catholic

Jane Margaret Burke-Byrne (born May 24, 1934) is a former Mayor of Chicago. She served in office from April 16, 1979 to April 29, 1983. She is the first and to-date only female mayor of Chicago. Chicago is the largest city in the United States to have had a female mayor as of 2014. Byrne first entered politics to help John F. Kennedy get elected President in 1960. It was during that campaign that she first met Mayor Richard J. Daley.

In 1968, Daley appointed her head of consumer affairs in Chicago. Byrne held that post until she was fired by mayor Michael Bilandic in 1977. After her firing, Byrne launched a campaign to unseat Bilandic in the 1979 Democratic mayoral primary, the real contest in this heavily Democratic city. At first, political observers believed her to have little chance of winning. However, a series of major snowstorms in January paralyzed the city and caused Bilandic to be seen as an ineffective leader. That helped give Byrne the edge she needed to win.[2] She then won the general election with 72 percent of the vote, then the largest margin that had ever been recorded in a mayoral election.

Mayor of Chicago (1979-1983)[edit]

Byrne positioned herself as a reformer in her first campaign. She won support from "lakefront liberals" and African-Americans in addition to many more conservative whites on the city's north side. Byrne made some progressive moves as mayor, such as hiring the first black school superintendent, and she was the first mayor to recognize the gay community. In March of 1981, She temporarily moved into the Cabrini–Green Homes, a particularly notorious public housing project on the near-north side for a 3-week period to bring attention and resources to the high crime rate there.[3] She also effectively banned handgun possession for guns unregistered or purchased after the enactment of an ordinance. That two-year re-registration program effectively banned handgun possession.

Byrne used special events, such as ChicagoFest, to revitalize Navy Pier and the downtown Chicago Theatre. She endorsed Senator Edward Kennedy for President in 1980 but could not stop President Jimmy Carter from winning the Illinois Democratic Pprimary. She was able to replace Chairman of the Cook County Democratic Party, County Board President George Dunne, a Daley loyalist, with her ally Alderman Edward Vrdolyak. However, her attempt to block the election of Richard M. Daley, the son of her late mentor, to the prominent position of Cook County States' Attorney (chief local prosecutor) in 1980 failed as Daley defeated Byrne's candidate, 14th Ward Alderman Edward M. Burke in the Democratic Primary and GOP incumbent Bernard Carey in the general election.

On Veterans Day, November 11, 1981, Dan Goodwin, who had successfully climbed the Sears Tower on Memorial Day, battled for his life on the side of the John Hancock Center. William Blair, Chicago's then-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 as thousands of people on the street below gave him an ovation and screamed, "Go! Go! Go!"

Later career[edit]

Byrne was narrowly defeated in the 1983 Democratic primary for Mayor by Harold Washington. The younger Daley ran a close third, splitting the white vote with Byrne and allowing Washington to win the Democratic primary with just 36% of the vote. Washington went on to win the general election in a racially polarized contest. Byrne ran against Washington again in the 1987 primary but was defeated. She endorsed Washington for the general election, in which he faced three white opponents.

Byrne ran one more major campaign, a failed bid in the 1988 Democratic primary for Cook County Circuit Court Clerk. Byrne sought Washington's support, but shortly before his sudden death in late 1987, Washington endorsed Aurelia Pucinski, the daughter of longtime Alderman Roman Pucinski. Pucinski went on to defeat Byrne in the primary and Vrdolyak, by then a Republican, in the general election. Byrne also ran against the younger Mayor Daley in 1991. Daley's chief rival in that race was Alderman Danny K. Davis.

Personal life[edit]

Byrne was born Jane Margaret Burke on May 24, 1934. In 1956, she married William P. Byrne, a Marine. The couple had a daughter, Kathy. 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 Lt. Byrne.[4] Byrne married journalist Jay McMullen in 1978, and they remained married until his death from lung cancer in 1992.

Byrne now lives in the same apartment building she has lived in since the 1970s. Byrne has one grandchild, Willie. Her daughter, Kathy, is a lawyer with a Chicago firm. Her 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 Rahm Emanuel as Mayor of Chicago; she now has few rare public appearances because of health problems she has experienced in recent years. Byrne, David Orr and Richard M. Daley are currently the only living former Mayors of Chicago.[citation needed]


External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Michael A. Bilandic
Mayor of Chicago
Succeeded by
Harold Washington