Jane Byrne

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Jane Margaret Byrne (born May 24, 1934) was the first and to date only female Mayor of Chicago. She served from April 16, 1979, to April 29, 1983. Chicago is the largest city in the United States to have had a female mayor as of 2010.


Early political career

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 fired by mayor Michael Bilandic in 1977. After her firing, Byrne launched a campaign to unseat Bilandic in the 1979 mayoral primary. At first, political observers believed she had little chance of winning. However, a series of major snowstorms in January paralyzed the city and caused Bilandic to be seen as ineffective at running the city. This helped give Byrne the edge she needed to win.[1]

Term as Mayor

Although she was a product of the Daley political machine, 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. She temporarily moved into Cabrini–Green, a particularly notorious public housing development for a time to bring attention and resources to the high crime rate there. She also effectively banned handgun possession for guns unregistered or purchased after the enactment of an ordinance. This two year re-registration program effectively banned handgun possession.

Ultimately though, she was a disappointment to many of these reform-oriented constituencies.[2] At the same time she never won over many old-guard "Daley Democrats" with whom she contended for control of the fading Cook County Democratic Party organization. As a result her coalition was an unstable mix of largely incompatible elements and she was ultimately unable to consolidate her position.

Byrne's political tactics as mayor ranged from modern media politics to largely unsuccessful attempts to play boss. She used special events, such as ChicagoFest, to revitalize Navy Pier and 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. 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 Ed Burke in the Democratic Primary and GOP incumbent Bernard Carey in the general election.

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