Jane Byrne’s daughter: 'Fearless’ mom with 'incredible instincts'

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The forgotten mayor: Part II . . .

The city’s failure to honor former Mayor Jane Byrne, the city’s only female mayor, by tribute or monument since her tenure in office decades ago, is baffling.

Never have New York, Los Angeles or Philadelphia ever elected a female mayor, but Chicago did decades ago . . . and she has been dispatched to history’s waste bin.

What did Byrne do to merit such negligence? Or was it just a simple matter of discrimination: A woman didn’t deserve recognition?

Byrne had little time in her four years of office to build big; but her vision eventually led others to do so; others who chose to forget the fiery lady on City Hall’s fifth floor who kept a bottle of nail polish on her desk.

Byrne’s accomplishments were detailed in Sneed’s Friday column, but an interview with Byrne’s only child, Kathy, gives a clearer picture of the city leader, now ill and frail, who felt history would not appreciate her work because of her personality.

Here are excerpts:

◆ “My mother is fearless. I don’t think she always was, but she has been for as long as I can remember.

“I am certain it’s because she faced the worst when she was 24, violently widowed, with an infant, no job, no house and no marketable skills in a world where Saks Fifth Avenue required either a husband or father’s signature to open a charge account in a woman’s name. After dealing with all that tragedy, grief and humiliation, anything that was thrown at her later felt like child’s play.

◆ ”My mother has incredible instincts.

“This can be good or bad, since she always has the ability to hone in on either your weakest or strongest point. When I was in high school, I didn’t get grounded like other girls if I broke a rule. Instead, I would have an important privilege taken away.

“In my junior year, platform shoes were the height of fashion. I stayed out too late one night, and the next day, bam! My platforms were gone. My mom knew she didn’t need to ground me, I wasn’t going anywhere if I couldn’t wear them. And after I had obviously learned my lesson, a brand new and even higher pair of platforms arrived.

“I saw her do this all the time when she was in office. Whether it was a labor negotiation, or an irate alderman with a long list of demands, she always instinctively knew which item on their agenda meant the most to them, whether big or small, and she would place great emphasis on that one item — knowing that to grant or deny it was the key to the whole transaction.”


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