Jane Byrne

(b. 1934)

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Richard J. Daley (1902—1976)

Harold Washington (1922—1987)

Edward M. Kennedy (1932—2009)


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(b. Chicago, 24 May 1934)

US; Mayor of Chicago 1979–83 Byrne's father was a businessman of Irish origin and she grew up in Illinois, where she attended Barat College of the Sacred Heart in Lake Forest. In 1960 she worked on the Kennedy campaign in Chicago and in 1964 was appointed by Chicago boss Richard Daley to organize the Chicago anti-poverty programme. In 1968 Byrne became the first female member of Daley's Cabinet, becoming responsible for consumer affairs.

From then until Daley's death in 1976, Byrne worked to improve services to consumers in the city and to build up her power base within the Democratic Party. Without Daley her power with the party machine (which was suspicious of her) was eroded; but she was able to exploit her independence in the struggle for control of the city. In 1978 she entered the mayoral race and in the Democratic primary beat Michael Bilandic by highlighting the corruption of the Cook County machine and its deteriorating efficiency. She won, helped by expanded voter registration and a winter which highlighted the city's weakening services. In the general election, she won easily, becoming Chicago's first woman mayor.

In office she gave high priority to inner city problems, especially housing and education issues. Highly critical of the Carter administration, she threw her support in the 1980 primary race behind Edward Kennedy. However, her own political position was increasingly under threat on two fronts: from blacks who had previously supported her and from whites increasingly concerned with law and order. In 1983 in a bitterly contested Democratic primary she lost in a three-way race against black Congressman Harold Washington and the son of the Chicago boss, Richard M. Daley Jr. Byrne did not immediately disappear from the Chicago scene. In 1987 she again entered the Democratic primary but was beaten by Washington; in 1991 she was defeated in the primary by Richard M. Daley Jr. Jane Byrne then wrote her memoirs, My Chicago, published in 1992.

Subjects: Politics.

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