Jane Byrne moved us all in the right direction

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In the end, Chicago did right by former Mayor Jane Byrne, the city’s only female mayor.

In August, the exasperating Circle Interchange and the park around the Water Tower in the heart of Chicago’s Mag Mile were renamed in her honor. 


That’s not bad for someone whose legacy might as well have been buried in a time capsule.

Byrne died last Friday and was laid to rest on Monday.

“Her last months were probably her most joyous in a long time,” her daughter Kathy Byrne said in her eulogy.

At 81, Byrne’s passing was not unexpected since she’s been in ill health for a while. But death always brings the realization that life is fleeting, as well as the reminder that our deeds follow us to the end.

I never knew Byrne.

In fact, I was a struggling single mother trying to make ends meet when Bryne won her historic election in 1979.

In my circle, the fact that Bryne was able to defeat Michael Bilandic — a sitting mayor — wasn’t the biggest news. The biggest news was Bryne dared to go against what was then a well-oiled Democratic Machine in the first place.

That was an ‘aha’ moment for black folks on the South and West sides.

A crippling snowstorm helped Byrne tap into the discontent in black neighborhoods over the delivery of city services. Still, it took an overwhelming black vote to sweep the mayor out of office.

Before Bryne threw down the gauntlet, she was virtually unknown on my side of town.

But the buzz about her began to spread on the South Side virtually by word of mouth.

It wasn’t long before I started bumping into people who had never talked about politics — let alone passed out brochures — who said they were going to volunteer for the Bryne campaign.

African-Americans quickly embraced this short, feisty, blond woman from the Northwest Side as their candidate because they were fed up with the machine.


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