Jane Byrne was just shy of her 49th birthday when she became the former mayor of Chicago, her public life effectively brought to an early conclusion despite three more runs for elective office. I’ve thought of that a lot over the years as Byrne, still very much alive, gradually receded from the public consciousness.
Being a former mayor of Chicago, any former mayor let alone its first woman mayor, ought to entitle a person to a certain amount of lasting respect, but it never really worked out that way for Byrne.
Because of the bad blood between her and the Daley family, she was deliberately shunted aside, becoming what my colleague Michael Sneed might call a “don’t invitem’ item” during Rich Daley’s 22 years as mayor.
It’s long past time to end the Jane Byrne freeze out.
That’s why I’d like to squeeze my way on board Sneed’s bandwagon seeking some public tribute for Byrne, who is in poor health and deserving of her hometown’s respect and the usual honors that go with it.
I’m not nominating her for sainthood or the mayoral hall of fame. Her reign was a mixed bag, as I’m well aware despite only being here for the end of it.
The voters of Chicago made their verdict on Byrne clear in the 1983 mayoral election that swept her out of office.
But I covered that campaign and saw for myself the deep affection many city residents felt for her, and that ought to count for something, just as it has for many other less than heroic politicians whose names now adorn some building, bridge or street.