That time in '77 Jane Byrne and I were on TV together | Bleader

That time in '77 Jane Byrne and I were on TV together

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A young Joravsky
  • WTTW
  • A young Joravsky
I wasn't going to write about the death of Mayor Jane Byrne, whose funeral took place on Monday.

No, there were just too many other pressing issues, most having to do with the grotesque interconnection between politics and money in our town.

Like—just to site a few examples—the $100 million that a dead-broke Chicago Public Schools took from the school kids and paid to bankers.

And the $600,000 in contributions that Mayor Rahm's campaign apparatus took from investment bankers and developers, who manage the city's underfunded pension funds.

And the exceedingly depressing spectacle of the mayor's reelection machine, firing up the propaganda with a first round of commercials.

Paid for, in part, by those aforementioned contributions from bankers and pension-fund managers.

So, yes, as you can see, there's just too much to write about in the present without delving into old days. But then I got an unexpected blast from the past that took me back 37 years . . .

It came in the form of a Facebook message from Stephen Waguespack—the alderman Scott Waguespack's younger brother—with a link to a long-forgotten WTTW TV show from December 12, 1977.

The show's host was John Callaway—his special guest was Jane Byrne. And in the studio audience was yours truly, looking a helluva lot younger than I've looked in years. That's for sure.

Watching that video made me feel like a character from a Stephen King novel, who slips through a time portal to confront who he was in a distant age.

The show was called Feedback and Callaway was doing this studio-participation thing where he roamed the aisles, mike in hand, so the audience got to question the newsmakers.

Byrne was very much in the news back then because Mayor Michael Bilandic had just fired her from her job as the city's commissioner of consumer sales.

He fired her after she accused him of muscling through a taxi-fare hike—the increase was "greased," as she put it—without analysis, discussion, or debate.

You know, sort of a smaller version of our parking meter deal.

Look, I know this is ancient history. To give you some perspective . . .

When this show was taped, Mick Dumke—my esteemed partner in crime—was all of six.

Mayor Rahm was just an 18-year-old recent graduate of New Trier, where he got his kicks pounding the crap out of a much smaller 10-year-old.

And me? I was 22-year-old copy boy for the Chicago Daily News, spending way too much time smoking reefer, eating pizza, watching the Bulls, and listening to Songs in the Key of Life.

Actually, that sounds like what I did last weekend, except for the reefer-smoking part.

As I recall I got into the Feedback taping because an old friend named Martha got a pass to the show. Or maybe Martha got the pass from me. Ah, who can remember—it was 37 years ago!

My big moment—and here's the link—comes at the 22:17 minute mark, where I have my exchange with Byrne.

I asked her if anything nefarious, like the greased taxi-fare deal, had ever happened under Mayor Richard J. Daley, aka the last mayor's daddy. And she said: No way, the late great Mayor Daley would never, ever tolerate such shenanigans.

I guess you could say that I was already developing a healthy skepticism about politicians. In other words, the unsaid subtext to our back-and-forth went like this . . .

Me: C'mon, Mrs. Byrne—you know, this stuff happened all the time under Old Man Daley.

Byrne: Maybe so, but you'll never get me to admit it, sonny boy.

I think we can also say that I was one colossal nerd. I mean, who told me it was a good idea to put a pen in the pocket? I look like a character from The Big Bang Theory.

As for Jane Byrne—you can see why City Hall's big boys laughed her off. She comes across as a sourpuss, neither slick nor smooth. And her hairstyle may even have been weirder than mine.

But she had the guts to run against Bilandic and the city was better for it. About a year and a half after she taped Callaway's show, she was sworn in as mayor. Imagine that.

Well, anyway, enough reminiscing for the day. Back to the grind.

I see that our illustrious City Council just voted 46-4 to approve another mayoral budget. That's an improvement on the unanimous vote they gave his first budget three years ago.

This is what passes as progress in the civilization known as Chicago.

Let's take a moment to thank aldermen John Arena, Bob Fioretti, Toni Foulkes, and Waguespack for their Byrne-like show of fortitude in declining to vote for a budget that's little more than a campaign prop for the mayor.

And let's say shame, shame, shame on all the other aldermen who genuflected before his mayoral holiness.

Just like their aldermanic predecessors once genuflected before Bilandic.

I certainly had my disagreements with Jane Byrne. But, man, we could use someone like her now more than ever.

Correction: This post was amended to reflect the correct spelling of John Callaway's name.

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