City Cast

This Week in Chi History: Jane Byrne

Sidney Madden
Sidney Madden
Posted on November 14, 2022   |   Updated on June 21
Former mayor Jane Byrne speaking at a press conference

Jane Byrne, former mayor of Chicago at a press conference. (Bettmann / Getty)

Eight years ago today, the city’s first woman mayor died.

Sauganash native Jane Byrne was taken under the wing of Mayor Richard J. Daley in the 1960s, the Tribune reported. By the time she ran for mayor in ‘79, Byrne had worked in various city roles and was involved in party politics.

But her campaign was seen as a rejection of the Democratic machine. Why? She was running against Mayor Michael Bilandic, Daley’s successor who had fired Byrne from City Hall, according to WTTW.

Seen as an underdog, Byrne clinched the nomination partly because of citywide anger over Bilandic’s response to a snowstorm that winter.In her four years as mayor, Byrne memorably:

  • Faced strikes from teachers, CTA workers, and firefighters
  • Founded the Blues Fest and the Taste of Chicago, and officially recognized the city's Pride Parade
  • Replaced Black city officials with white political allies
  • Decided to live in the Cabrini-Green public housing project for a month

She lost her reelection bid to Harold Washington, the city’s first Black mayor, in 1983. One reason why? She had alienated Black, women, and liberal Chicagoans who had supported her in office.

On Nov. 14, 2014, she died from complications of a stroke she had the previous year, her daughter Kathy said. She’s buried in Calvary Catholic Cemetery in Evanston.

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