The forgotten mayor . . .
It’s a slam-dunk!
A Chicago icon is about to be honored and a forgotten mayor memorialized.
Pending formal approval Wednesday by the City Council, Chicago will finally honor the legacy of its only female mayor: Jane Byrne, who served from 1979 to 1983.
◆ Translation: On Tuesday, the City Council Committee on Finance unanimously approved a recommendation to rename the plaza on which the Old Chicago Water Tower sits as the Jane M. Byrne Plaza.
“The Water Tower is a survivor, my mother is a survivor and Chicago is a survivor,” Byrne’s daughter, attorney Kathy Byrne, told the committee. “And I think that would be a tremendous way to honor her, by dedicating that park to my mom.”
“The Water Tower was a symbol of hope and inspiration to her,” Kathy Byrne said. “So that would be what the family would very much like.”
“It has been a long overdue failure to honor one of Chicago’s most significant figures,” said Ald. Ed Burke (14th), the committee chairman who joined this column in leading the charge to honor Jane Byrne.
“It’s bringing tears to my eyes,” said Ald. Carrie Austin (34th). “She is an icon and an inspiration. A true fighter for the city.”
“Mayor Byrne is high up on the ladder in the gay community,” said Ald. Tom Tunney (44th). “She was the first mayor to walk in the Gay Pride Parade. Now, they all line up to do so.”
“As mayor, Jane Byrne didn’t just blaze a new trail for women in politics,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel said. “She blazed a new trail forward to a better future for the entire city of Chicago. She remains an iconic figure in Chicago, so it’s only fitting that we rename her beloved plaza surrounding our iconic Water Tower in her honor. It will serve as a fitting tribute to her lasting legacy.”
Added Ald. Robert Fioretti (2nd): “I have never seen so many aldermen line up to sign a resolution!”
Kathy Byrne also asked aldermen to consider moving her mother’s Children’s Fountain, installed in 1982, from its current site in Lincoln Park to the Water Tower plaza.
“It was my favorite project, a work of the heart,” Jane Byrne once said about the fountain, which was inscribed: “Dedicated to all children in Chicago — who will take from our past to better our future.”
“We will entertain the possibility of moving the Children’s Fountain, but we need to get figures on what that might cost first,” Burke told Sneed.
Kathy Byrne told Sneed: “I have the biggest smile I can ever remember,” she said shortly after the committee’s unanimous vote to honor her ailing, 81-year-old mother. “Mom called me this morning and was so enthusiastic about this happening. She wished me good luck.
“You know, the Water Tower always inspired my mother during tough times. She used to see it from her kitchen window at 111 E. Chestnut St. and whatever the trouble was in the city, she would look at the Water Tower and say, ‘You survived the fire, and there was no city left, and you made it.’ ”
Moving the Children’s Fountain, the creation of which was inspired by a trip to Europe by Mayor Byrne, “would put everything in a wonderful package,” Kathy Byrne said.
She also tells Sneed there is an old legend about one of her Crane family forebears, who came over from Ireland in 1847 and survived the Chicago Fire by seeking shelter at the Water Tower.
“Her name was Margaret [Crane] and that is actually my mother’s name: Margaret Jane Byrne . . . but her brother couldn’t pronounce Margaret so everybody called her Janie.”
Gee whiz. Jane Byrne’s first name is actually Margaret? Well waddya know. Something I didn’t know.