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  Byrne, Jane
NameJane Byrne
Address Sauganash
Chicago, Illinois , United States
Born May 24, 1934
DiedNovember 14, 2014 (80 years)
ContributorWishful Thinking
Last ModifedMr. Matt
Apr 15, 2021 10:25am
Tags Widowed - Catholic -
InfoJane Margaret Byrne (born May 24, 1934) was the first female Mayor of Chicago, Illinois. She served from April 16, 1979 to April 29, 1983. As of 2005, no other woman has been a mayor of a larger American city.

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 freak 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.

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. However, she was ultimately a disappointment to many of these reform-oriented constituencies. 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 in the manner of the elder Daley. She made a much publicized move to live (however briefly) in an apartment in the Cabrini-Green housing projects, to highlight efforts to eliminate crime in the area. She endorsed Senator Edward Kennedy for President, 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.

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 ran one more major campaign, a failed bid in the 1988 Democratic Primary for Cook County Circuit Court Clerk, although she was endorsed by her former opponent Washington, who called her "Chicago's beauty." She also ran against the younger Mayor Daley in 1991, but by this time Byrne was very much a marginal figure. Daley's chief rival in that race was Alderman Danny Davis, a black politician from the West Side who himself did not pose an especially forceful challenge.

Byrne now lives in the same apartment building she lived in since the 1970's with her second husband, Jay McMullen, a former writer for newspapers. 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 treats on the subject of her life prior to, and including, her political career.



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  02/26/1991 Chicago Mayor- D Primary Lost 5.90% (-57.11%)
  03/15/1988 Cook County Clerk of the Circuit Courts - D Primary Lost 37.74% (-14.22%)
  02/24/1987 Chicago Mayor - D Primary Lost 46.27% (-7.22%)
  02/22/1983 Chicago Mayor - D Primary Lost 33.64% (-2.64%)
  04/03/1979 Chicago Mayor Won 82.05% (+65.94%)
  02/27/1979 Chicago Mayor - D Primary Won 51.04% (+2.07%)
Cook County State's Attorney - D Primary - Mar 18, 1980 D Edward M. Burke
IL US President - D Primary - Mar 18, 1980 D Edward M. "Ted" Kennedy
US President - D Primaries - Jun 03, 1980 D Edward M. "Ted" Kennedy