Jane Byrne

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Jane Byrne
Jane Byrne Chicago Mayor.jpg
Byrne official Mayor of Chicago portrait, 1979.
40th 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 C. 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 served as the 40th Mayor of Chicago from April 16, 1979 until April 29, 1983. Byrne won the Chicago mayoral election on February 27, 1979,[2] becoming the first and only (As of 2017) female mayor of Chicago, Illinois; 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 to date. Prior to her tenure as mayor, Byrne served as commissioner of the City 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.

Early life and career[edit]

Byrne was born Jane Margaret Burke on May 24, 1933 at John B. Murphy Hospital[3] in the Lake View neighborhood on the north side of Chicago, Illinois to Katherine Marie Burke (née Nolan), a stay at home wife and Edward Patrick Burke, vice president of Inland Steel.[4] 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 became interested in politics in her mid–20s, Entering 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 position beginning in 1964 with a job in the city's Head Start program. In June 1965, She was promoted with employment working with the Chicago Committee of Urban Opportunity. In 1968, Byrne became apart of Daley's cabinet, appointing her head of the City of Chicago's consumer affairs department. In 1972, Byrne served as 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 the rejection of majority of the democratic leaders in 1975. Byrne was forcibly removed from her committee chair by party members known as "The machine" shortly after the passing of Daley in late–1976. Shortly thereafter, Bryne 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"[5] in Chicago. Byrne was fired from her post of head of consumer affairs by Bliandic shortly after he was made aware of her charges against him in April 1977.

Mayor of Chicago (1979–1983)[edit]

Months after her firing as head of the city's consumer affairs, Byrne decided to challenge Bilandic by running for the office of mayor in the 1979 Democratic mayoral primary; the real contest in this heavily Democratic city. Officially announcing to run for mayor in August 1977, Byrne partnered with Chicago journalist and political consultant Don Rose to serve as her campaign manager.[6] 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."[7] However, a series of major snowstorms in January 1979 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 razor-thin 51% to 49% victory over Bilandic in the primary.[8] Byrne then won the general election with 82% of the vote, still the largest margin in a Chicago mayoral election.[9][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 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.

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

In March 1981, Byrne decided to moved into the crime–ridden Cabrini–Green Homes housing project on the near–north side after the occurring of 37 shootings which resulted in 10 murders during a three–month period.[10] Byrne stayed at the housing project for a 3–week period to bring attention to the housing project issues. Byrne stay was concluded on April 18 following an Easter Celebration at the project which drew protests and demonstrations.[11][12][13][14] 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.[15] 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.[16] The Chicago Sun Times reported that her enemies publicly mocked her as "that crazy broad" and "that skinny bitch" and worse.[17]

Byrne and her daughter Kathy attending in the annual Chicago Gay Pride Parade, 1985.

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.[18]

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.[19] 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.[20] In a dedication ceremony held on August 29, 2014, Governor Pat Quinn renamed the Circle Interchange in Chicago the Jane Byrne Interchange.[21] 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.[22]


  1. ^ Chcago Tribune - After death, a question about Jane Byrne's birth date (November 14, 2014)
  2. ^ Chicago Tribune – Jane Byrne Wins – February 28, 1979
  3. ^ NNDB – Jane Byrne (1933–2014)
  4. ^ Encyclopedia - Jane Byrne (1933-2014)
  5. ^ Chicago Tribune – Jane Byrne humbles powerful party pols in mayor's race – November 15, 2014
  6. ^ Illinois Issue – Don Rose analyzes Jane Byrne's victory – July 1979
  7. ^ Yardley, William (November 14, 2014). "Jane Byrne, Only Woman to Lead Chicago, Dies at 81". The New York Times. Retrieved November 17, 2014. 
  8. ^ Analysis of Byrne's election as Mayor, Chicago Tribune, accessed November 16, 2014.
  9. ^ Chicago Tribune – When Jane Byrne was elected mayor – November 14, 2014
  10. ^ Chicago Tribune – Jane Byrne is making history – March 26, 1981
  11. ^ Chicago Tribune – Jane Byrne Easter Celebration at Cabrini-Green, 1981 – April 20, 1981
  12. ^ "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. 
  13. ^ Chicago Tribune – Mayor Byrne move to Cabrini-Green – April 18, 1981
  14. ^ Chicago Tribune – Symbolism of politics is jolted by Jane Byrne – March 27, 1981
  15. ^ Constable, Burt (November 4, 2014). "Wallenda supported, Spider-Dan nearly killed". Daily Herald. Retrieved November 17, 2014. 
  16. ^ "Mayor Byrne's Choice Wins Post as Cook County Leader". The New York Times. March 30, 1982. Retrieved November 17, 2014. 
  17. ^ Steinberg, Neil (November 14, 2014). "Ex-Mayor Jane Byrne left colorful legacy during time of change". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved November 17, 2014. 
  18. ^ 1991 Chicago mayoral election results, chicagodemocracy.org; accessed November 16, 2014.
  19. ^ "Plane Crashes in Cemetery, Pilot Killed", Chicago Tribune, p. B1, 1959-06-01 
  20. ^ Former Mayor Jane Byrne Dies, chicago.cbslocal.com, November 14, 2014; accessed November 16, 2014.
  21. ^ "Circle Interchange to be renamed for Jane Byrne today". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 2014-08-29. 
  22. ^ 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