Jane Byrne through the years



Byrne pictured after her 1979 victory
  • Jim Klepitsch
  • Byrne pictured after her 1979 victory
Late last week former Chicago mayor Jane Byrne passed away at age 81. For a one-term mayor, her legacy is substantial: she's Chicago's first and only female mayor; in fact, no woman has ever been mayor of a larger U.S. city. But what Byrne will be best remembered for around these parts is that when she won her long-shot bid for mayor in 1979, she defeated the "machine."

Articles from our archive tell a rich and nuanced story about Byrne's reign and its aftermath. Here's a selection, old and new.

"What ever happened to Mayor Jane?," Michael Miner, April 1983

In April 1983, the very month Harold Washington was elected mayor after beating incumbent Byrne and future mayor Richard M. Daley in the Democratic primary, Miner spoke with people who'd worked on Byrne's campaign in '79. He wrote: "Time has tarnished Jane Byrne's image but burnished the memory of that race." When asked What about Jane Byrne today?, his interview subjects gave a wide range of answers. "Four years ago she was a heroic figure, but poor . . . Today—she may be rich and she may be poor, but morally, she's completely bankrupt," said one. Said another, "In many ways, I still like her. I'd still go and have a drink with her."

"Jane of the Jungle/Queen of the Media Circus," Ray Hanania, March 1999

In this '99 article Ray Hanania looks back at his "good old days" spent covering Jane Byrne's City Hall. He wrote: "Jane Byrne was an oddity, the center of a one-ring circus . . . Once she became mayor, she would rule with a whim of iron, turning Democratic politics upside down and forever changing the relationship between the city's politicians and those who write about them."

"Easter in Cabrini: Jane Byrne's 1981 PR disaster," Aimee Levitt, March 2013

Just last year Aimee Levitt wrote a short post about Byrne's ill-fated attempt to lead Easter festivities in Cabrini-Green when she herself was a resident. Tom Weinberg and Tom Finerty documented the scene—the video, which shows police using force to detain protesters who were heckling Byrne, is tough to watch.

"The Lessons of Jane Byrne," Ben Joravsky, April 2013

At times when the Mayor Rahm blues have become too much to bear, we can always depend on Ben Joravsky to remind us to "remember Jane Byrne." He writes: "Byrne proved it's possible for a relatively unknown politician on a why-not mission to beat an incumbent mayor. At least it happened once."

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