Jane Byrne

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Jane Byrne
Byrne in June 1985.
50th Mayor of Chicago
In office
April 16, 1979 – April 29, 1983
Preceded by Michael Bilandic
Succeeded by Harold Washington
Personal details
Born Jane Margaret Burke
(1933-05-24)May 24, 1933[1]
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
Died November 14, 2014(2014-11-14) (aged 81)
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
Resting place Interment Calvary Cemetery
Evanston, Illinois
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) William Byrne (m. 1956–59)(his death)
Jay McMullen (m. 1978–92)(his death)
Children Katherine Byrne
Alma mater St. Mary of the Woods
Barat College
Religion Roman Catholicism

Jane Margaret Byrne (née Burke; May 24, 1933 – November 14, 2014) was an American politician who was the 40th Mayor of Chicago from April 16, 1979 to April 29, 1983. Byrne was the first and only female mayor of Chicago, the second largest city in the United States at the time, and the largest U.S. city to have had a female mayor to date.

Early life and career[edit]

Byrne was born Jane Margaret Burke on May 24, 1933 in Chicago, Illinois to Katherine and Edward Burke.[2] 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. She later transferred to Barat College, where she graduated with a bachelor's in chemistry and biology in 1965. Byrne first entered politics to volunteer in John F. Kennedy's campaign for president in 1960. During that campaign 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.

Mayor of Chicago (1979–1983)[edit]

Byrne challenged 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. A memorandum inside the Bilandic campaign said it should portray her as, "a shrill, charging, vindictive person—and nothing makes a woman look worse."[3] 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 to beat Bilandic and the "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.[4] She then won the general election with 82% of the vote, still the largest margin in a Chicago mayoral election.[citation needed]

Byrne positioned herself as a reformer in her first campaign. She made inclusive moves as mayor, such as hiring the first African-American and woman 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.[5] 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.

She 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. 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.[6]

The Chicago Sun Times reported that her enemies publicly mocked her as "that crazy broad" and "that skinny bitch" and worse.[7]

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

On November 11, 1981, Dan Goodwin, who had successfully climbed the Sears Tower, 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.[8]

1983 Democratic primary[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.

Later career[edit]

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% of the vote, a distant third behind Daley and Alderman Danny K. Davis.[9]

Personal life[edit]

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.[10] 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.

Death and legacy[edit]

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.[11] In a dedication ceremony held on August 29, 2014, Governor Pat Quinn renamed the Circle Interchange in Chicago the Jane Byrne Interchange.[12] 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.[13]


  1. ^ Chcago Tribune - After death, a question about Jane Byrne's birth date (November 14, 2014)
  2. ^ Encyclopedia - Jane Byrne (1933-2014)
  3. ^ Yardley, William (November 14, 2014). "Jane Byrne, Only Woman to Lead Chicago, Dies at 81". The New York Times. Retrieved November 17, 2014. 
  4. ^ Analysis of Byrne's election as Mayor, Chicago Tribune, accessed November 16, 2014.
  5. ^ "Jane Byrne Cabrini-Green Easter: A Look Back At A Mayor's 1981 PR Fail That Ended In Shame". The Huffington Post (video). March 31, 2013. Retrieved November 17, 2014. 
  6. ^ "Mayor Byrne's Choice Wins Post as Cook County Leader". The New York Times. March 30, 1982. Retrieved November 17, 2014. 
  7. ^ Steinberg, Neil (November 14, 2014). "Ex-Mayor Jane Byrne left colorful legacy during time of change". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved November 17, 2014. 
  8. ^ Constable, Burt (November 4, 2014). "Wallenda supported, Spider-Dan nearly killed". Daily Herald. Retrieved November 17, 2014. 
  9. ^ 1991 Chicago mayoral election results, chicagodemocracy.org; accessed November 16, 2014.
  10. ^ "Plane Crashes in Cemetery, Pilot Killed", Chicago Tribune, p. B1, 1959-06-01 
  11. ^ Former Mayor Jane Byrne Dies, chicago.cbslocal.com, November 14, 2014; accessed November 16, 2014.
  12. ^ "Circle Interchange to be renamed for Jane Byrne today". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 2014-08-29. 
  13. ^ Jane Byrne to be honored, wbez.org; accessed November 16, 2014.

External links[edit]

  • Former City Hall Reporter Ray Hanania's online look at the City Hall Press Room and the Byrne Administration, published in the Chicago Reader and later online, themediaoasis.com; accessed November 16, 2014.
Political offices
Preceded by
Michael Bilandic
Mayor of Chicago
Succeeded by
Harold Washington