CHICAGO (CBS) — For the first time since former Mayor Jane Byrne left office in 1983, the Chicago City Council on Wednesday took the first steps toward officially honoring the city’s first and only female mayor.
Ald. Edward Burke (14th), the longest-serving alderman on the City Council, has introduced measures to have four prominent Chicago locales named after Byrne: the plaza around Buckingham Fountain, the plaza outside the Old Chicago Water Tower, the International Terminal at O’Hare International Airport, and the Grand Ballroom at Navy Pier.
“There’s a number of us who are impressed with the need for recognizing the contributions of the one-and-only female mayor of Chicago; in fact the only woman to be the mayor of a major American city,” Burke said.
The alderman told his colleagues he was not suggesting all four of his proposed honors for Byrne be adopted, rather he said they were suggestions for honoring Byrne, and that he was open to other suggestions for a way to honor the former mayor.
“I think many believe that the time for action is now, that we can’t delay this any further. It’s been long overdue,” Burke said.
Byrne’s daughter, Kathy, praised Chicago Sun-Times columnist Michael Sneed for spearheading the effort to get the city to honor her mother.
“I think it’s a significant thing because, A, she was the mayor of at that time the second-largest city in the United States, which took everyone by surprise, since Chicago had 100 years of machine politics, and so this was sort of a very energizing thing for people to know that we had a democracy,” she said. “She was also the first woman elected to a major city mayoralty, and so that was a thrill, and that was a great inspiration for young women … to know that, of course a woman could be mayor. Why not?”
Kathy Byrne said she believes, without her mother having become the first female mayor of Chicago, Harold Washington could not have become the city’s first black mayor in 1983.
Jane Byrne rarely is seen in public these days, as she suffered a stroke last year, and needs a wheelchair.
Though several former Chicago mayors have public buildings named after them — such as the Richard J. Daley Center, the Harold Washington Library, the Michael Bilandic state office building, and — Byrne has yet to receive any such honor. Daley and Washington also have city colleges and public parks named in their honor.
Though she didn’t mention former Mayor Richard M. Daley by name, Kathy Byrne suggested the city might not have honored her mother until now, because Jane Byrne and Daley were political rivals, and Daley ran the city for 22 years.
“No one wants to do anything that might cast themselves in a bad light to the person who sits in the mayor’s office,” she said. “It’s history, and it’s really … water over the dam.”
Burke said the Finance Committee, which he chairs, will take up the issue of honoring Byrne at a meeting later this summer. The next committee meeting has not yet been scheduled, and Burke will be undergoing surgery for prostate cancer on Thursday, though he has said he expects to resume a normal schedule soon after the procedure.