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 Chicago's consumer affairs department. 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. Jesse Jackson endorsed Byrne. Many Republican voters voted in the Democratic primary in order to beat Mayor Bilandic and the Democratic "Machine". 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 razor-thin 51% to 49% victory over Bilandic in the primary.[2] She then won the general election with 82 percent of the vote, still the largest margin in a Chicago mayoral election.

Mayor of Chicago (1979-1983)[edit]

Byrne positioned herself as a reformer in her first campaign. She made inclusive moves as mayor, such as hiring the first black school superintendent Ruth B. Love, and she was the first mayor to recognize the gay community. In March 1981, she moved into the crime-ridden Cabrini–Green Homes housing project for a 3-week period to bring attention and resources to its high crime rate.[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 Primary. 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. 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.

Byrne and her husband Chicago journalist Jay McMullen in their Cabrini-Green public housing apartment, 1981.

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. 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 ran one more major campaign, a failed bid 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, which he won.

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 him.[4] Byrne married journalist Jay McMullen in 1978, and they remained married until his death from lung cancer in 1992.

Byrne has lived in the same apartment building since the 1970s. 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. She now makes few public appearances due to health problems. Byrne, David Orr and Richard M. Daley are currently the only living former Chicago mayors.


In a dedication ceremony held on August 29, 2014, Governor Pat Quinn renamed the Circle Interchange in Chicago the Jane Byrne Interchange.[5] 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.[6]


External links[edit]

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