- Sun-Times Media
- The greatest tribute we can pay to Mayor Jane Byrne (pictured above) is to elect a new mayor.
It’s come to my attention that there’s a movement in town to pay tribute to former mayor Jane Byrne with some sort of monument or honorary street name.
Sun-Times columnist Michael Sneed has been crusading for a Byrne tribute with almost as much frequency and passion as I crusade against Mayor Emanuel’s South Loop Marriott hotel/DePaul basketball arena.
Hey, we all need our crusades.
Since Sneed launched hers for Byrne—who was royally snubbed by Mayor Richard M. Daley on more than one occasion—readers have been asking me what I think about it.
Truth be told, I’m torn on the issue . . .
On the one hand, I still recall the jubilation I felt in February 1979, when Byrne upset incumbent mayor Michael Bilandic in the Democratic primary.
Until then it was widely assumed by the powers that be that ordinary Chicago voters were (1) too stupid, (2) too afraid, or (3) both of the above to break ranks and vote against someone the powers that be had told them to vote for.
Byrne—who was widely derided for even running—torpedoed that conventional wisdom by unseating Bilandic, thanks in part to strong support from the black wards.
A point that generally gets overlooked by the aforementioned powers, who don’t want to let black voters think they have the power to do something as audacious as defeat an all-powerful mayor.
The standard wisdom is that Bilandic lost only because of his incompetence in dealing with all the snow that blanketed our city that winter.
It’s true, Bilandic’s incompetence put Byrne over the top. But it’s always irritated me that the takeaway from the election of 1979 is that the voters of Chicago are so clueless you can do anything you want to them—including selling off their streets and parking meters—so long as you plow the snow.
Which helps explain why the mayors who’ve followed Bilandic greet every little snowflake with a barrage of salt.
I for one am hoping that we adopt a similar attitude about mayors and education. That is—mayors can do anything they want so long as they adequately fund the schools. As opposed to closing 50 of them.
Well, it’s an idea.
Point is, you might say that Mayor Byrne’s greatest contribution to Chicago was getting elected in the first place.
In any regards, it was all downhill from there as, once in office, Byrne quickly sold out to the “evil cabal” of power brokers she’d railed against as a mayoral candidate.
Then, near the end of her term in office, she made a series of racially motivated appointments to the school and CHA boards that were largely intended to win over white voters on the northwest and southwest sides.
As a result, the black voters who’d helped usher her into office helped usher her out, voting overwhelmingly for Congressman Harold Washington.
Moreover, Mayor Byrne was hardly a gracious good sport once Washington defeated her in the Democratic primary of 1983. Once it became apparent that most white voters would never, ever vote for Washington, Byrne launched a write-in campaign in the general election.
I’d forgotten all about her write-in campaign, so allow me to take a moment to thank Albert “Bill” Williams, Reader theater critic extraordinaire, for taking the time to send me an e-mail and remind me about it.
What up, Bill!
Back to Byrne . . .
Mercifully, she dropped that write-in campaign once it was obvious it was going nowhere.
In retrospect, I think the best tribute we, the voters, can pay to Mayor Byrne is to revive the spirit of her great 1979 campaign and vote to throw the bum out.
You know which bum I’m talking about.
Let’s replace our illustrious mayor with someone else—like Toni Preckwinkle, Karen Lewis, Bob Fioretti, or Amara Enyia. Hell, I think Bill Williams would make a better mayor. The choice is yours, Chicago.
As Jane Byrne showed us 35 years ago, stupid and afraid is no way to go through life.